Garden Leads to Growth – In More Ways Than One

People grappling with mental health issues often take on new activities that can aid the healing process. For some, writing and journaling is helpful; for others, exercise or other hobby activities might offer the fulfillment they need while they learn strategies to cope with their conditions.

Gardening has emerged as another therapeutic option, and one in-patient psychotherapist at the Institute of Living has helped bring this activity to patients on Donnelly 2 South.

Sunshine Finneran, LCSW has led the charge in growing a garden on Donnelly 2 South, now called the Sensory Integration Garden, since 2013. The patients admitted to 2 South assist in planting, watering and care of the garden, allowing them tranquil access to the outdoors.

“Being involved in the garden invites patients to engage in a sensory experience,” Finneran said, “filled with the aroma of lavender, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, to name a few.”

Spending time in the garden promotes healing in many of its patients. Agitation and restlessness are common throughout the treatment process, but even something simple like watering the garden stimulates a bodily experience that creates a sense of purpose and grounding.

Patients have responded positively to the garden. “It helps to think about something else, one person said, “it breaks up the monotony of being in here.”

“Everyone loves the Lambs Ear herb,” said another. “It’s so soft and everyone likes to touch it.” Today, the Sensory Integration Garden is in its fourth year. It has become a large part of milieu therapy on Donnelley 2 South. During the spring, summer and autumn, the garden helps patients feel calmer and centered, advancing the recovery process for patients struggling with mental health issues.