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How is Counseling Like Gardening?

A pair of hands covered in dirt and surrounded by garden plants dig into the soil.

Clients often come to counseling with an idea of what it's probably going to be like either based on how it's shown in the media or their previous experiences. Some folks say they expect the counselor to give them advice on their challenges or tell them what to do. Some expect the counselor to be the expert on all things related existing as a human in this world of ours. Others may have had counselors who claimed to be just that and proceed to tell them what to do without even listening to what the client was saying.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret here (which you'll see me saying a lot in this blog) - counselors generally aren't supposed to give advice in the way we often think of it. Why? Because counselors are people too and people often give bad advice. The thing is, we may know things about the human mind, how the body reacts to stress and trauma, and have all sorts of tools and theories that help support a person - but we don't know you. We get to know you as we work with you and offer ideas, observations, and coping strategies to see what you think - but you are the expert in yourself. Counselors support you in tapping into your own expertise.

In that sense, counseling is a lot like gardening.

Now, before I explain why, let me say that I can't take all the credit for this idea. The metaphor of gardening evolved in cooperation with clients I had when I first started. During some early sessions as a newly-licensed counselor, I would start asking about goals for counseling, desired outcomes, and behavioral changes the client hoped to make. But... a few of them called me out on that. (Believe it or not, times like this can be good. More on that another time.)

They said things like it made them feel like a problem to be solved, or that talking about goals seemed very cold and medical.

And they had a point. Sometimes therapists can get so caught up in the idea that we're there to "heal people" that we forget that, really, the therapist doesn't have a lot of power to do that.

Over time and in these conversations, the idea that therapy is like gardening came about. And I have to thank each of those clients for stepping into that uncomfortable space and challenging me, because it helped me to grow into a better therapist.

So how exactly is therapy like gardening? Here's the thing...

The space we create together is designed to nurture you and help you grow. The therapist is like the gardener and the client is like the plant who is struggling to hang on. Just like how a gardener might know how to provide good soil, the right amount of water, proper sunlight, and overall support the plant's growth, a therapist has a lot of skills to support the client's growth. We have theories we find helpful in exploring your challenges and tools like mindfulness or progressive muscle relaxation to help you manage your thoughts, feelings, and responses. We have a lot of useful knowledge and skills.

But, ultimately, we can't make you bloom. Only you can do that.

Just like a gardener can't make a flower open before its time or a plant bear fruit on a certain timetable, a counselor can't force change.

It's the relationship between the plant and the gardener that helps it flourish. The gardener helps create a safe space for the plant, but the plant grows and blooms in its own time.

In the same way, the relationship between client and counselor can create a safe space for the client, helps the client gain perspective and an idea of how to grow and change, but the client ultimately does that in their own time as they're ready.

And, just like with gardening, we'll probably get our hands dirty. Changing our ways of thinking, reacting, and acting involve getting down in the soil to explore the roots of our patterns so that we can then see what changes will support your growth. It can get messy before the work bears fruit and the flowers start to bloom.

But you know what? You can do it. You can find that space and that person that will help you bloom into the flower that you are and let your life be fruitful.

I believe in you,



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