Children’s Trauma Therapy with Garden Metaphors

Jun 4


Warren Pettitt PhD

Warren Pettitt PhD

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Children who experience trauma need many avenues to help them process the hurt.  The tending of a garden is one method that has worked well for both younger and older children


I find that garden metaphors are helpful in treating children that are recovering from trauma. This only takes a small garden space or even a patio with potted plants. Children find great delight in planting things and watching them grow. In the process they will watch some plants thrive and produce flowers and fruit while other plants struggle. Some plants for instance do not do well in the sun and need to be moved to the shade. Others need wood chips gently placed around them for protection. Some plants may start to die but when given the necessary water or shade slowly came back to life.
 I see many child trauma victims that have experienced multiple moves and failed placements. Here are a few lessons that are meaningful to them.
      Plants can not grow strong if they receive poor care. Children often do not grow physically or emotionally when they experience trauma.
      It is not the plants responsibility to find water and light. It is not a child's fault if he/she is not provided with the love and food needed to grow.
      Plants suffer if they are planted in the wrong place,Children’s Trauma Therapy with Garden Metaphors Articles they may need shade instead of sun.
      Once they are planted in the right place it takes a while for them to recover. They need extra food, and water. Children are sometimes placed in a home that is not right for them.
      Even the smallest struggling plant when given tender care can start to grow. Now that the child is in a safe and caring environment they can heal and start over.
      Plants need extra protection in hard times like when it is very hot. We put them in shade and cover their roots with mulch. Parents provide extra care and protection for children when they are learning    to grow stronger.
      Plants need pruning in order to grow stronger. Sometimes children need help in clearing out the hurts in their lives so they can grow stronger.

One 15 year old boy was quite resistant to therapy however he took great care in gently pruning a plant that was damaged by frost. We talked about how wounded a plant becomes when  severe weather hits. It might have done better if someone had protected it before the event. We do not blame the plant for that. He gave the plant water, fertilizer, and covered it with mulch to keep it warm.  That day he opened himself up to receive insight and hope from the little plant and was anxious to check it’s progress at the next session.

It’s much easier for children to accept difficult lessons when the focus is a garden plant rather than themselves.  I hope that you will try some gardening and reap a harvest of healing.

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