Mental Health Center of Denver

Garden-based horticultural therapy program for at-risk teens

Carol LaRocque, LPC, HTR

Horticultural therapy brings together people and plants to achieve therapeutic goals.  At the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD) they are already into their second year of their horticultural therapy program. This summer, two organic garden-based pro-social skills groups that will serve children ages 7 to 12, and teens ages 12 to 18, who are facing mental health challenges, family dysfunction, and juvenile justice system involvement.

Growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in an organic garden gives youth the opportunity to learn more about themselves as they create a connection to nature through gardening, meet peers in a healthy, pro-social environment, and work closely with caring adult volunteers. Youth who were raised without adequate nurturing do not learn about empathy from the classroom; they learn it by experiencing it, as caretakers of the plants, and as recipients of adult attention. They come away with a sense of achievement that they were able to learn new skills, work together, wait patiently for the produce to grow and ripen, and overcome challenges to produce a healthy harvest.

The garden will host two pro-social skills development groups, and will also serve as a site for clinicians to bring individual and family clients for therapy sessions. Produce grown at the garden will be donated to the food bank to provide fresh vegetables.

The educational aspects of the program will introduce concepts of nutrition, sustainability, water conservation, and good stewardship of the land.

To visit MHCD’s website, click here.