What is Horticultural Therapy?

We interviewed Pam Catlin, who is a horticultural therapist. She explains how she got into the field and what her work entails.

What’s your name and where do you work?

My name is Pam Catlin, HTR. I work full time for Adult Care Services as the Manager of Horticultural Therapy Services. I also have a contract with the Good Samaritan Society, Prescott Village where I developed and implement an intergenerational HT (horticultural therapy) program. I also am on the faculty of the Horticultural Therapy Institute based in Denver, CO.

What’s your educational and employment background?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in horticulture from Washington State University and have worked in the field of HT since 1976. I have developed and/or worked for HT programs in Washington, Oregon, Illionois and Arizona. Five years of this work was with Chicago Botanic Garden’s Horticultural Therapy Services. Upon moving to Arizona in 1991 I primarily did contract HT services and taught for a local community college and for the Horticultural Therapy Institute. In 2005, Adult Care Services, one of my contracted agencies, created a full time position for me.

How did you get involved in horticultural therapy?

During my last year in college when visiting about what direction I would take my horticulture education I had an inner knowing that I was to do work that involved people and plants. It wasn’t until the last of that senior year that a professor of mine introduced me to something he’d just heard of….horticultural therapy. From that point on, it seemed like a fit for me. I was fortunate to have a community college in Walla Walla, WA sponsor me in my first HT job which was developing and implementing an HT program to servie adults with developmental disabilities. Thirty plus years later it is still my career of choice.

What types of places do you work?

Adult Care Services has three communities under its umbrella. Two are Adult Day Centers serving primarily older adults but also a variety of middle aged individuals with various issues such as developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, mental illness and M.S. The third setting is a residential memory care community, the only one of its type is northern Arizona. We have gardens at all the sites including the 2007 winner of the American Horticultural Therapy Association’s Therapeutic Landscape Design Award. The Good Samaritan site is a skilled nursing facility.

Can you describe a day in the life of a horticultural therapist?

The one thing that is typical is that nothing is typical. One of the beauties of working at a number of different facilities is the variety of individuals being served. Their needs vary from day to day and what I have planned sometimes works and sometimes needs to be dropped to make way for a more effective HT intervention. I primarily do group recreationally focused HT but also serve many individuals with severe memory loss through 1 x 1 HT with garden walks, plant care, floral arranging and sensory visits.

What certifications do you have?

Through the American Horticultural Therapy Association I am a registered horticultural therapist. I am also a certified dementia care mapper through the Bradford Group based in England.

What’s the best part of your job?

Watching people discover their abilities and the flexibility I have in my work are probably my favorite parts of the job.

What do you like least about your job?

What I like the least about my job are the physical demands of the work.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of this job?

There are two things I find most rewarding. One is watching severely impaired individuals become empowered, if even for a few moments, through the use of HT. The other is watching new students in the field catch the passion and see the potential of this work.

What is the biggest challenge of horticultural therapy?

The biggest challenge with horticultural therapy is the lack of public awareness of the profession. For over thirty years I have continued to need to educate potential employers of the field of HT and the benefits to their communities that they could receive from incorporating it into the services they provide.

If someone wanted to become a horticultural therapist, what’s the best way to pursue this job?

I strongly recommend individuals go to the AHTA website (www.ahta.org) and look up the educational requirements for registration. From there they can determine where to obtain those educational pieces. Certificate programs, such as the one through the Horticultural Therapy Institute, are great alternatives to obtain the horticultural therapy components for those who are unable to relocate to a University for a bachelor’s or master’s program.

Any words of wisdom you would like to share?

This is a very rewarding field for anyone who has a love for people and a knowledge and appreciation of plants. It requires both to be a success.

Do you have a website?

I do not have a website personally but some of the gardens at my sites are shown at www.adultcareservices.org.

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