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American Society of Landscape Architects


May 2006 Issue

The Garden as a Treatment Milieu
Two Swedish gardens counteract the effects of stress.

By Clare Cooper Marcus

The Garden as a Treatment Milieu Anna Maria Pàlsdóttir

An extraordinary experiment is taking place on the grounds of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences’ Alnarp campus in southwest Sweden. People suffering from a variety of stress-related diseases are referred to a two-hectare garden by their doctor, a hospital insurance company, or their employer. They relax or work in the garden under the care of professional staff comprising an occupational therapist, horticultural therapist, landscape architect, physiotherapist, and psychotherapist, on a schedule that varies from one half day to four half days a week over a period of twelve weeks. The participants (they are not referred to as patients) are monitored by a multidisciplinary research team including faculty from the campus department of landscape architecture, psychiatrists, a physician, and an environmental psychologist. The progress of the participants who spend time in the garden will be compared with a group of individuals with the same stress-related symptoms who are receiving more “normal” treatment—a long period of at-home rest plus the use of antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft, and five or six sessions of physiotherapy or psychotherapy treatment. At last, a controlled experiment that will begin to explore to what extent a therapeutic garden is healing! The outlook is very promising. One of the staff remarked, “I’ve been working with stressed and sick people for 25 years, and the changes we see here in the garden in three months are faster and deeper than anything I’ve seen before.”

There is an alarming rise in stress-related illness in Western Europe, just as there is in the United States. In Sweden, state- and employer-based insurance programs are increasingly interested in nondrug stress treatment since stress-related illness is costing so much in terms of sick leave, medical treatment, and personal pain.

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