Date Presented 04/22/2023

The impact of a university therapeutic sensory garden on quality of life, sense of well-being, and community among university students was investigated. Quality of life was defined as encompassing physical, mental, and social health and well-being. Results indicated a positive association between time spent in nature and impact on mental health and well-being for improved quality of life. In addition, being in nature contributed to a sense of connection to a common good beyond just the self.

Primary Author and Speaker: Theresa Delbert

Additional Authors and Speakers: Kasey E. Stepansky, Janet Bucey

PURPOSE: The study’s objective was to investigate the impact of a university therapeutic sensory garden on quality of life, sense of wellbeing, and community among university students. Quality of life was defined as encompassing physical, mental, social health and wellbeing. The importance of and need for improving college/university student quality of life and wellbeing are present in current literature, especially notable now due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Also present in literature is evidence for the positive effects of therapeutic sensory gardens on a variety of populations. However, there is little evidence that connects both of these concepts-the goal of this research was to do that. Occupational therapists are poised to be able to address the needs of college/university students and the results of this research provide support for one means of intervention.

DESIGN: Recruitment for this descriptive study occurred via convenience sampling within a private, north east University. Inclusion criteria consisted of students over the age of 18 at the university including full-time, part-time, graduate, and undergraduate students.

METHOD: Students spent at least 30 minutes a week across four weeks in a university therapeutic sensory garden. Students completed the EUROHIS-QOL-8 to assess quality of life. To evaluate emotional wellbeing, students completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule after each visit. Post participation, students completed a quality of life interview. Results were analyzed both per participant and in aggregate to track change over time based on exposure and time spent in the garden. Additionally, themes from the quality of life interviews were independently identified by researchers and coded based on common themes found.

RESULTS: Impact on quality of life was identified through three themes: 1) connectedness, 2) positive emotional responses and 3) active engagement sensory responses. Students consistently mentioned feeling connected to their context. Terms associated with positive emotional responses included ‘calm’, ‘peace’, ‘improved mood’, ‘happy’ and ‘being right’. Students reported being grounded, energized, and focused after active engagement in the garden.

CONCLUSION: The results from this study are consistent with literature indicating a positive association between time spent in nature and impact on mental health and wellbeing for improved quality of life. Our results support a link between a person’s value for being in relationship with nature and their wellbeing. Being in nature contributes to the person’s sense of connection beyond themselves to a common good (Holt et al., 2019; Kuczynski et al., 2020; Zylstra, 2014). The sensory garden allowed students to engage in a valued occupation which supported quality of life (Hammell, 2014). The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in social isolation and psychological distress among University students. With options for outdoor social engagement, perceived feelings of connectedness to community, and ease of integrating social distancing methods within the therapeutic sensory garden, this intervention could be considered by university campuses as a means to support student wellness during and after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. The results of this study embody the core of occupational therapy practice wherein, by doing or engaging in a meaningful or valuable occupation, health and wellbeing or quality of life are supported.


Holt, E. W., Lombard, Q. K., Best, N., Smiley-Smith, S., & Quinn, J. E. (2019). Active and passive use of green space, health, and well-being amongst university students. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(3), 424.

Kuczynski, I., Mädler, M., Taibi, Y., & Lang, J. (2020). The assessment of psychosocial work conditions and their relationship to well-being: a multi-study report. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(5), 1654.

Zylstra, M. J., Knight, A. T., Esler, K. J., & Le Grange, L. L. (2014). Connectedness as a core conservation concern: An interdisciplinary review of theory and a call for practice. Springer Science Reviews, 2(1), 119-143.

Hammell, K. R. W. (2014). Belonging, occupation, and human well-being: An exploration. Canadian Journal of occupational therapy, 81(1), 39-50.