Denton Psychiatrist's Therapy Begins in the Garden

The Indo-American Psychiatric Association will honor Dr. Bharat Patel May 19 in San Francisco

A North Texas psychiatrist is getting some nationwide recognition for his unique way of treating patients. At Denton County Mental Health and Mental Retardation, it all begins before the patients even walk through the door.

Dr. Bharat Patel is a staff psychiatrist there. He moved to Texas from his native India nearly four decades ago. For him, helping people with mental challenges is a labor of love.

"We are giving life to our patients," Patel said. "We are helping the broken-hearted."

"Dr. B," as he's known, also has a passion for gardening. A garden outside his Denton office was his idea. The plants, flowers and trees are meticulously cared for. They are also part of the prescription -- a concept that started about 25 years ago after a conversation with a drug-addicted client who'd lost everything. He arrived at the office one day, greeted by a single dead plant in a pot.

"He said, 'You tell me what you would be feeling like if I'm thinking of life or death, and looking at a dead plant,'" Patel said.

What started as a one-man effort has grown to include patients, staff and families. The garden, Patel said, is a safe, comforting place.

"That's healing without the medication," he said. "And I believe in that."

This month, the Indo-American Psychiatric Association will honor Patel for his work in Denton, and in his homeland of India -- where he helps provide medical and dental care and supplies to children in schools and orphanages. The presentation will take place at the group's annual meeting in San Francisco, May 19.

Patel said he was humbled.

"It is not my award," he said. "It's our award, because we work together for this."

Denton County MHMR patients help maintain the garden, planting, weeding and watering it. Patel said it gives them a sense of ownership.

Making it a place where hope grows.

"It's the best therapy," he said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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