The Role Of Therapy Plants In Mental Health Treatment

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Since ancient times, humans have revered plants for their healing properties and ability to provide a sense of peace and a connection to nature. In a comprehensive review of existing studies related to plant therapy, researchers found that plants may be able to help reduce anxiety and stress, provide relief from conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and even enhance memory retention and creativity. Plants and nature have the potential to provide various benefits to those who participate in therapy. Still, you might be wondering how plant therapy works and why it seems to be so effective for addressing mental health needs. Keep reading to get answers to these questions and more.

Learn more about the benefits of plant therapy

Types of plant therapy

Plant therapy, also known as horticultural therapy, is an increasingly popular form of mental health treatment. It involves using plants and nature-based activities to improve physical and psychological well-being. Therapists may incorporate plant therapy in a variety of ways to help provide benefits to individuals who are found to be a fit for these strategies. Depending on the unique needs of the individual, treatment providers may opt for plant therapy strategies that include:

  • Essential oils
  • Gardening
  • Nature walks
  • Raising household plants 

Essential oil therapy

Essential oils are a type of plant-based aromatherapy that can be used to supplement mental health treatment strategies and provide natural mental health benefits. These oils are made from aromatic compounds found in plants and can be used in aromatherapy treatments for goals such as relaxation and pain relief. Different essential oils may be used to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety, which are summarized below:

For depression

  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang-ylang
  • Chamomile
  • Jasmine
  • Frankincense

For anxiety

  • Lavender
  • Bergamot
  • Valerian
  • Rose
  • Vetiver

The use of essential oils may vary between treatment providers depending on the goals of therapy and the mental health needs of the individual. Some may use certain essential oils during therapy depending on the nature of the topics being explored in the specific session, while others may recommend that individuals explore and discover what works for them. In one study, it was found that when used in combination with psychotherapy, essential oils were able to successfully relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain

Different gardening activities

Therapists may incorporate gardening into their treatment strategies to help clients discover a deeper connection with nature, increase their physical activity levels, learn new skills, and find solace in the therapeutic value of plants. 


Studies have shown that horticultural therapy may be beneficial for individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health challenges by providing them with a safe space to express their emotions and work through trauma.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Gardening may also give people a sense of purpose or achievement and allow for self-reflection in a calming environment. Through horticultural therapy sessions, clients can engage with nature in ways that are enjoyable and meaningful while receiving support from therapists throughout the process. Therapists may encourage clients to participate in activities such as planting seeds, nurturing plants indoors or outdoors, caring for potted plants or outdoor gardens, and creating handmade planters or garden decorations. 

One study examined the role at-home gardening played in preserving positive mental health in individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the study, researchers found that gardening had a significant impact on mental health, with participants reporting lower psychological distress after engaging in gardening activities. Studies like this one have demonstrated how gardening can help alleviate stress levels by providing people with a calming atmosphere, a connection to nature, and an environment in which they can practice mindfulness.

Gardening may also offer physical benefits that increase feelings of happiness and peace. Working in a garden encourages physical activity, which may have a positive influence on both physical health and mental well-being. Physical activity and getting fresh air may help release feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. These hormones act as natural painkillers that can reduce stress and depression symptoms. Additionally, sun exposure from working outside helps to normalize sleep cycles and boosts vitamin D levels, both of which can be important factors in combatting depression and anxiety.

Enjoying walks in nature

Nature walks can be another way to get outdoors and enjoy the healing power of the natural world. Going for a nature walk may provide benefits such as reducing stress levels, improving mood, increasing physical activity, decreasing loneliness, and boosting self-esteem. Research has shown that even just 15 minutes spent in natural environments may have positive effects on mental well-being. This may be because being out in nature can cause the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain that play an important role in reducing feelings of depression, hopelessness, and other common symptoms. 

Raising household flora

Raising household plants is becoming an increasingly popular way to reap the psychological benefits of plant therapy without having to leave your home. This form of plant therapy may also prove to be a useful supplement for individuals who participate in online therapy. 

Research has found that taking care of houseplants may provide some important benefits for those who are experiencing mental health challenges. In a recent study, researchers found that caring for indoor plants can help individuals achieve improved mental health as well as a more relaxed physical state. They reported that individuals who cared for houseplants had improved learning abilities and decreased symptoms of anxiety. 

Therapists may recommend that their clients incorporate household plant care into their daily routine as a means of addressing their unique mental health needs. Taking care of plants can offer structure throughout the day by providing set times for watering, pruning, fertilizing, or transferring them from one location to another. Completing these simple tasks can provide a sense of accomplishment and give individuals something to focus on while working through difficult emotions. This may serve as a helpful tool for those who are trying to break harmful or unwanted thoughts and behavioral patterns. 

Plant therapy and online mental health treatment

The use of plants in psychological treatment has been around for centuries, with many cultures using them to help alleviate physical and psychological ailments. In modern times, plant therapy has evolved into a more structured approach used alongside talk therapy that can help individuals engage in healthy activity while working through the healing process. Through horticultural activities such as planting, gardening, or tending to plants, individuals may develop mindfulness skills and learn how to manage their thoughts and emotions in a healthy and effective manner.

Learn more about the benefits of plant therapy

Online therapy in mental health treatment

Online therapy and plant therapy are commonly used in combination to treat symptoms of mental illness. For individuals who experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, participating in online therapy from the comfort of their own homes may be a more flexible option for getting the care they need. In this scenario, online counselors may recommend that individuals take care of household plants or engage in any of the other horticultural methods mentioned above to process information discussed during sessions. 

If you’re searching for a therapist who can incorporate your preferences into your treatment plan, consider connecting with a provider through an online platform such as BetterHelp. Online platforms remove the need to conduct your own research by matching you with a therapist who meets your preferences and needs. You can match with a provider in as little as a day and start speaking with them through video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging according to your comfort level and availability.

The efficacy of online therapy in improving mental health

Online therapy can be a helpful resource for individuals who would like to address mental health disorders and other life challenges. Research has consistently shown that online interventions can just as effective as those delivered in person. In one analysis, researchers looked at the body of studies that have been conducted on the effectiveness of gardening over the past decade. In the review, researchers discovered that there are numerous benefits of incorporating plant therapy methods into mental health treatment strategies. This study demonstrates the usefulness of plant therapy as a supplemental treatment for individuals participating in online therapy. 


Plant therapy may offer a variety of therapeutic benefits that include stress reduction, improved mood, and increased self-esteem. Essential oils, gardening, nature walks, and raising household plants are methods that counselors may use to help individuals develop a more balanced state of mental well-being and reduce symptoms of various mental health conditions. Incorporating plant therapy into online interventions could increase the efficacy of treatment outcomes. Online therapy can make connecting with the right provider easier and more convenient, allowing individuals to search for a therapist according to their needs and preferences.
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