Horticultural therapy group helps mental wellness grow among students

Various arrangements of sticks, branches, feathers and pinecones sit on a table with a blue tablecloth
Examples of the projects made by students during horticulture therapy.

If you’ve been looking forward to some gardening this spring as a stress release, Brandon University (BU) Counselling Therapist Marsha Harris knows how you feel.

In fact, Harris has seen the benefits first-hand of working with plants and plant-based materials for BU students this year. Harris partnered with Cree Métis Grandmother Deborah Tacan and Master of Marriage and Family Therapy student Amanda-Rose Bourget to co-facilitate a horticultural therapy group during the past term.

“We know that post-secondary students are experiencing significant rates of mental health issues, and they are looking for unique opportunities to learn new coping skills and to process their experiences,” Harris said. “There seems to be a significant interest in plants and greenery in popular culture, and we know that horticulture can be employed as a therapeutic tool to enhance well-being.”

pine branches, leaves and string are arranged on a table

With funding support from the Suicide Prevention Implementation Network, the group brought together Harris’ western clinical skills with Tacan’s Traditional Knowledge. Nine students met weekly in the Indigenous Peoples’ Centre over the course of a month to practise techniques, such as transplanting, floral design, creating indoor gardens and storytelling through plants.

“The activities were all chosen to achieve specific therapeutic goals such as stress relief, improved mood and attention,” Harris said. “This group focused on stress reduction and developing new coping skills while using plants and plant materials.”

Harris was introduced to the concept by Cheryl Cohen, a Horticultural Therapist and classmate while they were studying for their master’s degrees. Harris has also had great success with a popular plant-more, stress-less event with Peer Wellness Educator Volunteer students, encouraging her to take this new step when the opportunity arose.

The new group was highly successful, and Harris gave a presentation on the topic at the recent Mental Health on the Prairies conference at BU.

What students had to say:

  • “Focusing on your mental health through plants is an extremely healing process.”
  • “I learned a lot about plants, about connection, about myself and mindfulness and literally everything. I am so grateful for this opportunity.”
  • “This was something to look forward to every week.”
Moss, leaves and pine cones tied onto branches


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