Members Article – Therapeutic Landscapes Australia Conference

The inaugural Therapeutic Landscapes Australia Conference was held in Melbourne on Friday 27th November and was attended by 140 people. This was a promising start to what could develop into an ongoing national network for practitioners and those interested in therapeutic horticulture. The conference program was informative and inspiring with the quality of presenters being of a very high standard.

The morning started with some research presented by Dr. Mardie Townsend, showing the theory behind a connection between nature and health. It is estimated that by 2030, cardio-vascular problems and mental health issues will be the biggest contributors to human disease. Inactivity, obesity and abuse remain at unacceptably high levels while contact with nature is declining every year. Dr Townsend presented the case for Biophilia, Attention Restoration Theory and Stress Reduction Theory as examples where nature and natural settings can positively affect our health and wellbeing. Evidence based practice was promoted as a means of acceptance within community health to support the best outcomes and increased likelihood of funding allocation.

Dr Chris Reed presented a report on his doctoral paper about Therapeutic Horticulture in Victoria specifically and Australia broadly. He defined the majority of TH as being practiced informally and unstructured with a wide application in aged care, community gardens, disability centres and rehabilitation hospitals among others. The call for registration of garden therapists was discussed in an attempt to gain recognition and standardization of practice. This is an ongoing discussion and good to see it raised among the attendees during breaks.

A presentation by Mel Holmes, OT showed everyone that outcomes were not necessarily focused around quantity of horticultural tasks. Instead, we were encouraged to aim at using plants and gardening activities as a means to achieve physical improvements like sitting tolerance, manual dexterity, stamina along with cognitive developments in listening, planning, attention and decision making. Sociability, enhanced self-esteem, communication and reduced feelings of isolation, fear and depression were all sited as good outcomes.

Elements of good outdoor design for aged care facilities was presented by Tara Graham-Cochrane, President of Horticultural Therapy South Australia. This was followed by case studies from the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre and the Kevin Heinze GROW service for people with disabilities. Some of us were treated to a private tour of the gardens at various sites of Austin Health facilities the day after the conference.

Training and accreditation of practitioners is developing and the conference provided a great forum to discuss the many issues we face in HT & TH in Australia at present. Another conference is planned for Sydney in August 2016 with the help of Cultivate, the Horticultural Therapy Society of NSW.

Submitted by: Toni Salter

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