Horticultural Therapy, a professional practice that integrates specific gardening activities with traditional counseling theory,is a powerful tool that recognizes the benefits of placing the client in a care giving role. At Pacific Quest, the art of gardening and the art of living come together, offering growth-focused and goal-oriented treatment activities that research has shown to reduce stress, improve concentration, increase motivation, and overall life satisfaction (Haller & Kramer, 2006).
The history of Horticultural Therapy dates to early human history when court physicians in Egypt prescribed daily walks in a garden as treatment for mood instability (Lewis, 1976). Greek philosophers were known for teaching life lessons in lush productive gardens, and animistic cultures mythologized the biological processes of plants and trees to create meaning and identity within their society. However, it wasn’t until the advent of the first private psychiatric institutions in the early 1800’s that Horticultural Therapy became a respected clinical treatment for mental illness. While the curative and calming effects of caring for plants and trees may be timeless and universally appealing, Horticultural Therapy continues to be a growing field that has proven to be compatible with a variety of professional counseling and rehabilitative practices.
The therapists and guides at Pacific Quest seek to uphold the principles and best practices of Horticultural Therapy. They admire sustainable gardeners for being growth-oriented, lifelong learners, and seeking to mimic the rhythms and cycles of nature. In many ways, learning to live a sustainable life can be compared to learning how to cultivate a sustainable garden. For young adults at Pacific Quest, many of who seek to affirm a sense of meaning and place in the world, the process of change and growth they witness in the garden provides an opportunity to look more closely at the change and growth taking root within themselves.
Historically, people learned to work with nature vs. battling it, cultivating the earth vs. trampling it, and in the process they discovered the wisdom and simplicity of planting seeds and caring for trees that bear fruit for future generations. History teaches us how ancient agriculturalists understood nature in a very different way than hunters and gatherers. Similarly, the ideas that Pacific Quest is founded upon are very different than a traditional wilderness program. Rather than climbing mountains or mastering skills in a remote wilderness, young adults at Pacific Quest learn the practical life skills through community living and real-life settings. The location of Reeds Bay provides a unique challenge for young adults learning to balance the comforts and distractions of an urban environment with the work and collective vision to restore the beauty and mystery of an ancient agricultural society.
The garden is one of many areas in the program that students learn to practice the skills to live a more independent and productive life. Whether by organizing a nursery, prioritizing crop rotations, planning a planting schedule, designing garden beds, charting compost temperatures, or experimenting with new and creative ways of increasing efficiency and sustainability in their community, young adults at PQ practice life skills in a uniquely experiential way on a daily basis. As young adults develop the courage and skills to care for a garden, they experience greater confidence in the ability to internalize care for themselves, applying new skills and insights to aspects of their lives that reach far beyond a therapeutic garden in Hawaii.
The values that sustain the Hawaiian culture and stories of this land provide an important anchor for the PQ experience. “Aloha Aina,” (to love the land) is an essential way of life in Hawaii. For young adults at Pacific Quest, learning to love the land and learning to love one’s self go hand in hand. In fact, the expression “Aloha Aina” implies that love for life and love for the land are one and the same. During their time in the garden, young adults learn first hand that love takes consistent work, and requires “kuleana” (responsibility). In many ways, this is the magic of the garden at Pacific Quest, allowing young adults no longer wait to be told how and when to be responsible, instead they learn and practice ways to seek responsibility for themselves as an expression of self-worth and gratitude.
The gardening experience in the young adult program is based on the premise that people naturally want to do work that evokes a feeling of purpose, and relates to the larger scope of their lives. Through the activities in the garden, young adults are immersed in a community that challenges the need for immediate gratification and entitled attitudes. Unlike any other outdoor therapeutic program, young adults at Pacific Quest have an opportunity to develop a reciprocal relationship with nature by cultivating the food they eat, and testing practical skills in a garden that are transferable in a modern society.
Growing and harvesting food from the land provides the most basic lesson in sustainability, which is to give before taking. Rather than hiking and surviving as emphasized in a traditional wilderness program, students at Pacific Quest interact in a community that internalizes the concepts of sustainability by applying them to the process of emotional and psychosocial development. This is the cornerstone of the Sustainable GrowthTM treatment model, offering young people the skills and unconditional support to express a profound sense of care that not only builds confidence, but also supports a healthier and more purposeful way of life.