Ecopsychotherapy ~ A Review of Two Books

by John Scull

Philip Sutton Chard, The Healing Earth: Nature's medicine for the troubled soul. Minnetonka MN: NorthWord Press, 1994.

Howard Clinebell, Ecotherapy: Healing ourselves, healing the earth. New York: Haworth Press, 1996.

"How the hell is a tree going to teach me anything?" asks one of Philip Chard's clients. This little book 
(144 pages) provides many very good answers to that question. Refreshingly, there is very little in the way of theory but there are delightful and moving stories from Chard's personal experience as an outdoorsman and counselor. He describes the joys, challenges, and humor of helping his clients use direct contact with nature to deal with their issues of anxiety, loss, depression, relationships, and the search for meaning in modern life. In each of the stories Chard is a participant and facilitator but nature is the therapist.

The book is fun. Chard and his clients can be found on mountaintops, in the woods, in the garden, and out in the snow, feeling foolish and fearful but solving their lives' problems by connecting with the earth. Besides being fun, the book is often poetic and is beautifully designed as a physical object. Praise should go to illustrator Kenneth Hey, cover designer Wayne Parmley, and photographer Pat O'Hara.

Philip Chard, a counselor who writes a column called "Out of My Mind" in the Milwaukee Journal, intended this to be a self-help book and at the end of most of the chapters there are exercises or ceremonies for the reader to do in nature. I don't know how helpful these exercises would be for individuals without a guide such as Chard; they seem a little general. On the other hand, I strongly recommend this book to counselors or psychotherapists who want to incorporate nature-connecting into their clinical work. His believable and vivid case studies can go a long way in helping therapists overcome their understandable doubts about doing anything new or unconventional. Beyond whatever therapeutic value it might have, this book is an inspiring and enjoyable piece of nature writing.

Howard Clinebell, the author of Ecotherapy, is a well-known writer in the field of eclectic pastoral counselling and this book is certainly eclectic. In the lengthy introductory section (156 pages) he provides an excellent outline of the many forms of psychotherapy. This part of the book is highly recommended to anyone who wants a good overview of the confusing world of counselling and psychotherapy and how it might be applied to questions of the human-nature relationship.

When it finally got to ecotherapy and ecoeducation, however, the book was a real disappointment to me. The remaining 117 pages provide a rather pedestrian account of eclectic counselling with the prefix eco- tacked on the front. His suggestions are all pretty good but they mostly aren't unique to ecopsychology and they lack the life and intensity of Chard's stories.

In The Healing Earth nature is the primary therapist and Chard just makes the referral. Ecotherapy uses nature as one more tool available as an adjunct to traditional counselling and education. The refreshing thing about both these books is that they get past theory and speculation and show actual practical therapeutic uses of connecting with nature.

In case you would like more information about these authors, Howard Clinebell has a website at and Philip Sutton Chard is on the web at

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