What began as a modest investment of space and money — an unused, raised outdoor planter bed at the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital and $350 worth of plants, soil and gardening tools — has become a popular therapeutic tool for some of the hospital’s inpatients. And, it has produced an important piece of research.
It began when Resnick patients told hospital staff members they longed for more programs outside. A multidisciplinary team of occupational therapists, nurses and social workers at Resnick began working on the idea of creating a therapeutic garden, all the while eyeing that neglected raised bed on the hospital’s deck.
“It took a lot of planning, but I learned that even a small project can make a lot of difference,” says Leilanie Ayala, research and Magnet program director at Resnick. As the project progressed, Ayala approached Huibrie Pieters, PhD, an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing, to collaborate on a research project. While there was a body of research into the therapeutic effects of gardening and other nature-related activities on patients in residential care or outpatient settings, no one had studied garden therapy for adults in an inpatient psychiatric hospital.
“This was the first time gardening has been studied in an inpatient setting,” Dr. Pieters says. “It’s truly a multidisciplinary study. Social work, nursing and occupational therapy — everyone working together. That is kind of a big deal. We should be doing more multidisciplinary and holistic work.”
Not only did the study yield significant results but it specifically was cited as an exemplar of new knowledge when it was announced in February that Resnick would receive Magnet status, highlighting the support of nursing research, evidence-based practice and innovation.
Patients were involved from the start, helping staff members choose plants — flowers, succulents and non-toxic herbs — and putting them into the soil. Once a week, patients and staff worked together in the garden, planting, turning the soil, watering and harvesting flowers and herbs. Afterward, the researchers interviewed patients. Results were overwhelmingly positive, with most patients reporting improvement in motivation, enjoyment of being in nature and social interaction.
“The garden is kind of like a community of plants,” one patient noted. “I associate that with us going into the garden and being a community together and tending to it and taking care of it. And that kind of instills me to want to take care of myself in a way. I need to attend to my needs, too.”
Another patient said: “I did something productive. I felt good. It was a way of getting my mind off my problems.” Still another observed: “I don’t feel so confined. Being at one with nature, it kinds of brings a sense of peace, and that’s why I’m more motivated to go outside and be interactive.”
Resnick staff have taken note of the program’s impact on their patients. “The gardening group is such a valuable therapeutic intervention because it connects patients with the healing power of nature through easy-to-do activities such as turning the soil, watering plants, and exploring the garden through the senses,” says occupational therapist Nancy Wicks. “The OTs who run the group see positive changes with patients socializing, smiling and sharing ideas about plants they’d like to grow here in the hospital and gardening activities to do after discharge. It’s a great way to contribute to the process of recovery.”
There now are plans to expand the garden therapy program to other units in the hospital and to do additional research.
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