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This week I met with my advisor, Vanessa Harden, to discuss my project. Not only has she created projects that run in the same vein as what I’m trying to do, she’s also an established industry professional who also teaches Ideation and Prototyping at NYU. And she could immediately see that there was an important step that I was missing–talking directly to my users and to ‘experts’. In the research I’ve done up until now, I’ve read many studies and journal articles and I’ve talked with my friends and colleagues about their mental health and how they think the city has affected them. I have not talked with people who actually use nature to benefit their mental health. I think this happened because my project kept evolving and I got a little caught up in my idea without focusing on the real users. One of the most important steps in the design process is making sure you’re always keeping your user in mind. And as my project evolved, it became more and more important to me that nature and the awareness of the benefits of nature become accessible to all NYC’s populations (which is why the subway is such a great place to start seeing as all populations are present here). But I wasn’t updating my first hand research by talking to people from all populations. I intend to do that as well, most likely through a survey of some kind.

So with Vanessa’s help, I’m working towards being back on track. I have reached out to many horticultural therapists and urban agriculturalists and I have two phone interviews on Monday with horticultural therapists (UPDATE: I have 2 additional interviewees for this week!). My goal for these conversations is to find out what it is about nature and plant life that produces a positive effect on mental health (according to my secondary research) and if there is/are commonalities among users and different populations in New York City. I hope to be able to talk to people who have undergone the therapy as well if I can.
I intend to ask the therapists the following questions:

  1. What is your name and occupation? Are you associated with or employed by an institution and if so, what is the name and what is your affiliation?
  2. What led you to horticulture therapy?
  3. What does a typical horticulture therapy session look like? Is there one?
    1. Are there individual and group sessions? If so, do you see benefits within each kind and what are they?
    2. How often do sessions take place?
    3. Where do these sessions take place?
  4. What aspects of mental health does this therapy affect? Are there specific disorders it is especially helpful with?
  5. How successful do you find this type of therapy to be and how is that success defined/measured?
  6. What types of patients do you see?
    1. What types of disorders?
    2. What populations of people? (Higher or lower classes, ethnicities, urban residents, education levels, native NYers or transplants, job/careers, etc.)
  7. Do you generally have patients who have sought out horticulture therapy themselves or is it recommended to them by other doctors, friends, etc.?
  8. Do you receive feedback about the plant life from your patients? Do they express reluctance, surprise, excitement, etc., before partaking?
  9. Do you advise your patients to seek plant life outside of therapy? Why or why not?
  10. How does plant life affect you?
  11. What is it about this therapy that you think works? What is it about plants that offer a calming effect?
  12. Do you find that horticulture therapy or plants in general have helped you personally with maintaining a healthy mind?
  13. How does the city affect you?
  14. In your opinion, does the city affect your patients’ mental state and overall mental health? How so?

Once I have completed my interviews (hopefully more people will respond to me), I will more likely be able to determine if there is a common thread among the people partaking in nature therapy that will better inform what I do for my project. Right now the ideas I had for my prototypes and final project are on hold while I figure this out.

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