In mid-February, when the winter blues were at their peak, a splash of green left a mark on Kenyon’s campus. On the 14th and 21st, Elizabeth “Libby” Ladrach and Sarah Gabric, two Licensed Professional Counselors at the Cox Health and Counseling Center, facilitated horticulture therapy sessions, in which participants had the chance to plant their own succulents and bring them home. The events were part of a series of “art groups,” as Ladrach and Gabric called them, that the two have developed over the past couple years.
The idea to give students the chance to improve their mental health by working with their hands came from a conversation between the two counselors when Ladrach first began her work at the counseling center. She studied art therapy during graduate school and found that she and Gabric shared a passion for painting.
“We’re trying to have this space where people can come and be vulnerable and talk about things and connect with others,” Ladrach said. “It’s more about the process than the product.”
After experimenting with using materials such as beads and clay in their art groups, Ladrach and Gabric decided to move beyond visual methods and host sessions that would better engage all five of their participants’ senses.
In the succulent planting session, participants were encouraged to interact with the soil in a mindful way. Before they began, those in attendance wrote down at least one intention for themselves on sheets of paper to bury in the soil that would nurture their plant.
This technique accompanies the discussion the counselors add to the end of each group so that participants can reflect on their experience. “In that way, we’ve found that people form these really cool connections … both with themselves and others,” Gabric said. “And that’s awesome.” Ladrach added that it is a fulfilling experience to watch participants learn how to grow and care for a plant.
More recently, Heather Petersen, Kenyon Bookstore sales floor supervisor and apparel buyer, has begun to facilitate aromatherapy sessions at the counseling center in conjunction with Gabric and Ladrach. Petersen, who associates color with several senses, including sound and smell — a form of synesthesia — is fascinated by the emotions and visuals that scent can invoke in people.
“When you inhale something, especially an essential oil, you feel something because it just goes right in[to your brain],” she said.
The next event for Gabric and Ladrach’s art group is a session focused on tea. The counselors will bring in growers Josh and Becky Wentworth-Kuhn from Bailiwick Farm to discuss the drink’s healing properties and tell participants how to make a blend properly. Those in attendance will also have the chance to drink and put together their own bag of herbal tea. Gabric and Ladrach eventually hope to add an outdoor component to their program, possibly at the Brown Family Environmental Center.
“This is something we’re really excited about, and especially with the unconventional therapy methods, we’ve found the response from students to be overwhelming,” Gabric said.
Spaces are still available for Gabric and Ladrach’s tea therapy sessions April 4 and 11 at 4 p.m. To reserve a spot, you can inquire about the events at the reception desk in the Kenyon College Counseling Center.