Occupational Therapy student
placements at Garden Projects
As part of their training, all Occupational Therapy (OT) students are required to
spend time on placements to gain practical, professional experience.
Traditionally, placement settings are sought in hospitals and intermediate care
teams, but given the current national shortage of placements for OT students,
training departments are being forced to look outside the usual Health and Social
Services OT departments, to less traditional settings, such as social and
therapeutic garden projects.
The purpose of this Briefing Sheet is to describe the benefits for garden projects
and OT students of choosing a garden-based placement and to make
recommendations about how best to manage OT student placements at garden
Thrive was contacted by the Practice Placement department at Brunel University
early in 2005 and it was agreed to take on three second-year students for an
eight-week placement. Each student worked alongside a therapist who acted as
a supervisor. In addition, twice-weekly group supervision meetings were held,
facilitated by a member of the University’s Practice Placement team and a part-
time horticultural therapist from Thrive who is an OT. The students were placed
at Thrive’s two London garden projects (in Battersea and Hackney) and at a large
Social Services Day Centre in London where gardening sessions are held for
clients. At the end of the placement, an evaluation questionnaire was completed
by the students and supervisors, and this Briefing Sheet is based on what they
Benefits of a horticultural placement
Students, supervisors and the University tutor were very positive about how the
placement had enabled the OT students to gain new skills and knowledge of
social and therapeutic horticulture (STH), listing the following benefits:
· Placement offered an opportunity of ‘experiential learning’ and to experience
the restorative effects of STH
· Opportunity to see in practice what had been learnt in theory and in research
· Chance to work in a non-medical, less institutional setting
· “My supervisor gave clear answers to my questions and explained why
things were done in a particular way”
· “Opportunity to have a wide range of experiences due to having a varied
· Opportunity to learn a new occupation and to really understand the value of
horticulture and to personally feel the benefits
· Opportunity to see how SHT extends beyond the medium of gardening to
include crafts, flower shows, literacy, cooking produce and awareness of the
environment Thrive Briefing
· Chance to see how horticulture and related activities can be graded to match
· Improving communication skills, due to working with a range of clients
· Awareness of different methods of communication, e.g. sign language,
pictures and photographs.
Confidence to manage
· “In some ways it helped me not having an OT – to develop at my own
pace, understand the role of OT in this setting and to critically analyse and
work things through”
· “Useful having three students on placement as we provided each other
· “Supervisions made me reflect on issues deeply and have been a rich
source of information”
· “The placement aided both personal and professional development” and
gave “Space to practice self management skills”
· “Lots of opportunity to put theory into practice and reflect and analyse
events/issues critically and in detail”.
The staff at the Thrive Garden Projects said that they had gained, too, from
hosting the OT students’ placements. They particularly valued the extra
support that clients received, and found it useful to learn more about the
professional perspective of OT.
How to set up OT placements
1. Approach a local OT training department to find out whether they are
interested in expanding their choice of OT student placements to include
gardening and horticulture as an occupation.
2. Identify a staff member to provide co-ordination and administration of the
placements. Good organisation (e.g. acknowledging initial correspondence
letters from students) is essential.
3. If possible, invite a qualified OT with experience of horticulture to take the
role of professional adviser regarding the practical and academic
requirements of the placements.
4. Clarify the role of the therapists who are going to act as supervisors and
ensure that they have the opportunity to attend briefing sessions run by
the University OT department, e.g. Fieldwork Educator’s training, and to
attend pre-placement briefings.
5. Offer students the opportunity to visit the garden before the start date at a
convenient time and also offer a chance to participate in a taster session.
6. Be ready to address concerns some students may have about choosing a
non-traditional placement, such as how it will give them an OT perspective
and what it will be like working with a supervisor who is not an OT.
7. Send each student a welcome letter before they start and enclose a list of
recommended reading and websites.
8. Prepare a Student Information Pack to give out at the start of the
placement and a folder that can be added to by students and supervisors
during their stay.
An example of the Student 9. Organise tutorials/support as necessary to discuss the technical/theoretical
Information Pack developed aspects of OT within STH settings and to discuss case studies.
by Thrive can be viewed in 10. Invite students to attend other relevant presentations, network meetings
the Thrive Library and seminars.