David Godot, Psy.D.

A Symbolic Therapeutic Gardening Group for Adolescents

January 9, 2015 • Mental Health

This morning I led a gardening therapy group for my 25 residential teenagers. I introduced the group by teaching them how to work with the plants, by way of some Ericksonian metaphors:

When a baby is born, no one knows what it’s going to turn into. It’s just this bald, screaming, helpless little thing… it could grow up to be anything. And nobody can make it become anything in particular — an artist, or a scientist, or an engineer. You just have to give it the right amount of care, so you can enjoy learning what it is going to become over time. When you plant a flower bulb, you might not have any idea what sort of flower you’ll get, what color or shape or size. You have to wait, and make sure it gets the right amount of water and sunlight so that it will become whatever its true inner self is supposed to become.

Now sometimes a flower plant starts out growing in one sort of container, like this [held up a planter], but after a while it tends to outgrow that tiny plastic shell. So it’s necessary to transplant it to more suitable ground. And when you’re going to do that you have to be gentle in extracting the plant from its planter. You have to squeeze the sides gently to loosen up the root system, and then gently pull it out just slowly enough that the whole foundation of the thing will not be too disturbed. You can see how smoothly and easily it becomes ready to find its new home.

But notice that the roots have taken on the shape of their planter; they’re all bound up together. So you want to just gently pull them apart a little bit so that when it gets a little fresh soil it’ll begin to naturally and automatically reach out to find new sources of nourishment and stability. To really become established in the ground and ready to grow up into whatever its true nature may happen to be.

Now I could just stand this little plant up here and leave it [set the plant down on the ground], but it wouldn’t do very well because it needs care and support and connection. So when you’re placing it in the ground, make sure that you’ve dug out enough room for it to sit really comfortably in place. And then push enough soil in around the roots to make it nice and snug. Not too firm, but just firm enough that it will be held up securely while it works on settling its new roots into the ground on its own.

Then me, another therapist, and a few staff counselors all worked together with the kids to turn a broken down fountain into a big flower planter, to plant some fresh vegetables in the neglected garden boxes, and rejuvenate the walkway with lots of beautiful flowering plants.

An old broken fountain becomes a beautiful flower garden


Vegetable garden