Ju Young Kim

Book Review

Clinebell, Howard. Ecotherapy: Healing ourselves, healing the earth.
Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 1996.

“ Love all of God ’ s Creation, the whole and every piece of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God ’ s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things . . . . you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world an abiding universal love. ” – Fyoder Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Clinebell 1996, 170)

Jesus Christ said that “ you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself ” (Lk 10:27). In Chapter 10 of Luke, Jesus Christ expressed that neighbors might be metaphorically those who we should help, heal and be together with. But I think that we should expand the meaning of “ neighbor ” to beyond human beings. To love our neighbors is to fill up their need like the work of the Samaritan in the Bible. I think that loving the neighbors is to heal them when they are sick, fill up their need when they lack, and with them when they are neglected. The Samaritan did that. If we confess that we will follow Jesus Christ and live like the Word, we should do and live as the Samaritan. If “ neighbors ” means human beings as well as animals, plants and every environment, how should we act? Unfortunately, our perspective of the neighbor is limited in only human beings. So far, we have never considered natural environment as our neighbor. So we have extremely exploited our natural environment, that is, we cut too many trees in order to build houses, hotel, golf green, etc, and killed a lot of animals in order to eat, use in experiments and for leisure without any ethical judgments. When we realized our mistake in our thinking about natural environment, we lost many things, and are faced with the deterioration of it: “ global warming, extreme weather patterns, droughts, holes in the ozone layer, the destruction of forests, fires out of control, the erosion of arable land, problems of waste, loss of species, threats to clean air and clean water, the population explosion, and on and on ” (Rhoads 2007, xiii). In order to preserve our community of life from these deteriorations, we must meet, care for and love a variety of neighbors such as flowers, trees, fish, animals, rivers, lakes, sea, mountains, air, and earth. They are considered as our neighbors. So we should heal them when they are sick, we fill up their need when they lack, and we are with them when they are neglected, too. We should reflect whether we are like Priests and Levites or the Samaritan. I confirm that we must be like a Samaritan. If we are not like the Samaritan, we will continue to lose our neighbors, and finally we will disappear. The book “ Ecotheraphy ” teaches us who are our true neighbors, how we can help them and be healed by them, and how we will live with them as friends.

In the introduction of the book, the author states that the health challenge of an individual should be started in the whole human family because humankind ’ s health problem in the face of the human family is very related to the planet ’ s continuing ecological deterioration (Clinebell, 1).

He emphasizes that humankind ’ s health problem is a work of community, and he states that “ to focus only on maintaining personal health while ignoring the social causes of much illness in today ’ s world, is increasingly inadequate ” (2). Through many examples, he says that health connects with ecology related to economics, spirituality, environment, theology and education like a web. Especially, it is very important to realize that everything is connected in order to heal a shortage of the human mind-body-spirit organism, because we can heal an illness and enliven our own life when we fling wide our inner windows of grateful awareness of life ’ s gifts of life and deepen our intimate interaction with the natural world (8). Therefore, he states that Forming and transforming values, attitudes, and behaviors to make healers and teachers more ecologically constructive is an essential aspect of all truly holistic education and therapy, which is, ecotherapy (12).

The main content of the book divides two parts: he presents a theory of ecotherapy through an example of a grounded model of human development and healing, and a real method of ecotherapy and ecoeducation. As part of the theory of ecotherapy, he shows four approaches: the first one is that he tries to find humankind ’ s earthy roots in relation to the lost self and earth through “ ecopsychology ” and “ psychoecology ” , and the second is that he spells out the objectives and working principles of the ecotherapy-ecoeducation model. The third theoretical approach is to find spiritual, ethical, and cosmological meaning life issues through religious and spiritual resourses. Finally, he tried to examine resourses from other therapies, insights, and methods that have potential usefulness for both ecotherapy and ecoeducation. After that, in the real method of ecotherapy and ecoeducation, he designs detailedly and substantially an ecological model of counseling, therapy, education, and living through five chapters.

First of all, the author says that we should “ understand human growth and healing that includes the deep earth-rootedness of all aspects of our species ” (25). Although we have to discover, befriend, and intentionally develop our profound rootedness in the life-giving biosphere, a process called “ healthy biophilia and ecobonding, ” we have ignored, denied, or rejected this inherent earth-rootedness, through a process called “ ecophobia and ecoalienation ” (26). Such ecophobia, ecoalienation, death, and contingency cause much of humankind ’ s anxiety and suffering. He states through Walter R. Christie ’ s quotation that “ to see nature is to see ourselves . . . . To preserve nature is to preserve the matrix through which we can experience our souls and the soul of the planet Earth. The choice is clear, because there really is no choice at all ” (37). Therefore, he suggests that two of many indications of the ecotherapy are the worldwide ecology movement and the convergence of insights from many sources regarding the earthy roots of human beings. He presents a variety of ecological insights from the perspective of artists, poets and philosophers such as Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, John Burroughs, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, ecopsychology and various psychotherapies, ecofeminist theories of personality, that were emphasized by Irene Diamond, Gloria Feman Orenstein, Susan Griffin, Carolyn Merchant, Charlene Spretnak, Joanna Macy and Lesley Irene Shore, and earth-healing wisdom from native peoples.

In the next chapter, he explains six working principles of ecotherapy and ecoeducation: “ awakening to the social context of personal pain, (65) ” “ balancing the creative and destructive sides of nature and life, (69) ” “ modifying attitude, feelings, and memories, (70) ” “ love, hope, and laughter for transformation, (71) ” “ earth-caring as peacemaking, (75) ” and “ starting with ourselves (76) ” . In addition, he presents six transforming perspectives for ecotherapy and ecoeducation. The first perspective is “ the view-from-the-moon perspective ” that makes people realize that everything is one in the planet (77). The second is “ a transgenerational well-being perspective ” through which “ we must ask what the impact of today ’ s decisions will be on the kind of world we are leaving for all future generations ” (78). The third is “ the whole-biosphere well-being perspective ” which makes us give up anthropocentrism or species-ism and adopt a biocentric and cosmocentric orientation (79). The fourth is “ the whole-human-family well-being perspective ” that makes us declare that “ humankind is all in the same boat-spaceship earth ” (81). The fifth is “ the wise woman/wise man perspectives ” and the final perspective is “ an interfaith, inclusive ecological spirituality perspective ” (83). These principles and perspectives make people improve their awareness of integrity.

In the final theory of Ecotherapy, he tries to explore spiritual, ethical, cosmological, and meaning-of-life issues more deeply and internally, so this chapter is very spiritual and religious. There are nine ecologically destructive religious and ethical beliefs that cause the diminish of people ’ s ecological and integrated wellness, and cause eco-pathogenic problems. The fist wrong belief is “ human alienation from the Earth ” . The author says that “ the fundamental psychospiritual root of the ecological crisis is alienation of humans from an awareness of our organic connectedness with the planet ’ s marvelous network of living, inspirited things ” (100). Next is “ psychospiritual idolatries ” whose plethora is one of the deep causes of ecoalienation, so they prevent people from formulating an inclusive global spirituality, unifying a spiritual identity, and pledging an ethical commitment. The third one is “ the pathology of materialism. ” He states that it is important to realize that “ the process of acquiring, consuming, wasting, and throwing away things produces massive destruction of precious, limited natural resources ” (101). The fourth is “ spiritual alienation from the feminine, ” which should be healed because both men and women can facilitate earth-caring partnerships between them, and then they can realize the relationship between humankind and ecological community (102). The fifth one is “ rejection of wildness. ” All humans have the potentially valuable wildness within us like a shadow. He mentions that “ a significant goal of ecotherapy and ecoeducation is encouraging people to develop spiritualities and ethics that affirm and celebrate the wildness in their shadow side, channeling this valuable energy in ethically and ecologically creative direction ” (103). The sixth is “ magical, manipulative religious beliefs ” that are reality-denying beliefs, so they make people have privatized religious beliefs and dichotomized thinking (105). Furthermore, there are “ linking social justice and ecology ” and “ expanding ethical horizons ” (106). These beliefs emphasize more social and ecological responsibility than individual-centered ones do. The final belief is “ spiritual deadness ” which makes humans not feel and experience being alive and aware as living beings, organically interacting with a dynamic, living planet (107). Therefore, he suggests that “ healing spiritual deadness involves opening oneself to the energy of the living presence of a loving God, available in every here-and-now moment, including experiences of nurturing bonding with God ’ s continuing creation ” (107). After those, he presents a variety of examples about the contribution of healing spiritual ecopathology. These are examples of psychologists and religion and pastoral counselors, methodologies of healing in nature, spiritual-ethical resources of Jewish and Christian creation theology, as well as spiritual and theological healing and earth-caring resources of other religious traditions, ecofeminist theology and native American spirituality.

In part three of the book, the author tried to apply his theories to methods of ecotherapy and ecoeducation. There are various methods that he provides: “ projective methods and healing rituals in ecotherapy and ecoeducation, (212) ” “ horticultural therapy, (221) ” “ wilderness therapy, (223) ” “ use of ecological stories, (190) ” “ use of imaging and dreamwork in ecotherapy and ecoeducation, (199) ” etc. These detailed and real methods expand his theories into practical ecotherapy and ecoeducation, make education and therapy be related to eco-environment, and finally make them integrate with humankind ’ s and the planet ’ s problems. In addition, he concludes the book as he asks “ what is ecoeducation, ” and he answers it himself. In conclusion, he suggests that “ a most important key to tipping the precarious global balance toward ecosanity is equipping and inspiring more and more children, youth, and adults to become knowledgeably earth-caring. ” Therefore, “ teachers, parents, counselors, health educators, and religious educators all have strategic roles in providing earth learning opportunities ” (237).

As I read this book, I am challenged that healing humans should never be divided from healing the earth, and we should educate about ecological life and vision through ecotherapay and ecoeducation for the future. First of all, we must heal not only our physical problems but also our own mind and spirit, and our ecological environment and the whole planet. So far, we have healed ourselves and our own problems. Although we have developed a high medical technology by using our superb intellectual endowment, we could not heal all of the illness and suffering in the world, as well as face more serious and expansive problems. Swimme and Berry declare “ we cannot have well being on a sick planet, not even with our medical science. So long as we continue to generate more toxins than the planet can absorb and transform, the members of the Earth community will become ill. Human health is derivative. Planetary health is primary ” (3). I agree with this thought that motivates me to have a more expansive viewpoint of ecotherapy.

Another challenge is that the author is very interested in the future ’ s generation and environment through ecoeducation. I think that the primary purpose for education is to nurture children and to transform an educated place (Tye 2000, 8). The author dedicates the book “ to the healing and wholeness of children and grandchildren-yours, mine, and the world ’ s. ” The reason that I am interested in eco-theology and environmental preservation, and I take classes about ecology is not only for my life and the world where I live, but also for my own children and descendants and the future ’ s environment and planet that will be preserved from humans ’ arrogance and selfishness. In order to keep the whole Gaia, the living Earth, we should prepare to teach how we are related to nature and the environment, and how we integrate with one another like the web of life considering about next generations and the world. I would like to call as “ ecoeducation. ” This book shows me the most educational methods for teaching eco-practice and eco-spirituality among my learned methods. If we try to educate methods of ecotherapay and ecoeducation in our congregations and community, his working methods will help us improve eco-awareness and ecological life.

However, it leaves three things to be desired for me. One thing is that the author neglected eco-culture of oriental history. I can understand that he used the most resources in western culture, but he should have used resources of the whole world ’ s culture like both eastern and western resources, in order to provide an inclusive and integrated alternative of ecotherapay and ecoeducation. Eastern thought supports the unity and interconnectedness of all events. Brahma in India and the Tao in China are representatives of Eastern thought for ecological holism. Even though we can find principles and methods of ecotherapay and ecoeducation through these thoughts sufficiently, he missed supporting his suggestion with Eastern thought. The author presented examples of Native American eco-life, but he put it on the last section of each chapter and explained less content. If he includes explanation and methodology of Eastern thought in his book, it will be a more universal and balanced alternative about ecotherapay and ecoeducation.

The second problem is that there is little positive alternative of eco-justice. Although he focused on major subjects such as psychology, religion, education, feminism, ecology, and philosophy in order to organize and develop a concept of ecotherapay, he needed to add more subjects such as society, politics, economics, and applied ethics. When I read the book completely, I felt that this result of the book was too naive and theoretical to apply to our practical and real lives related to social, political and economical problems. Especially, eco-problems in the planet have to be solved through eco-justice because we have to find causes of the problems, reflect the faults, and present responsible alternatives and answers for new ecological life and history. I think that he needs to refer to the wider perspectives of eco-theologian Leonardo Boff like concepts of ecotechnology, ecopolitics, human ecology, social ecology, mental ecology, and ecological ethics. He presents more concrete subjects than the author does. Boff states that eco-justice “ seeks to develop strategies of sustained development assuring balanced ecosystem, including the labor system, and at the same time, to maintain a sense of solidarity with future generations ” (Boff, 5). If the author considers these practice-centered concepts, he can develop more actual consequence in social and political participation, and economical method for ecotherapy and ecoeducation.

Finally, the author inclines to only an orientation of the western civilization. It is very different to experience between the author’s ecological environment in advanced countries of the western civilization and others’ ecological environment in developing and poor countries. I was glad that we had the book which provided principles and methods of ecotherapy and ecoeducation. But his suggestions are a mere lavish and luxurious principles and methods for these countries, because they still have to develop and improve their economical level. There are so many countries where his ecological alternatives cannot be applied in the world. They want to listen to sustainable alternatives that apply to all counties. This book can apply to advanced countries of the west, but it needs to add integrated thoughts of ecotherapy and ecoeducation between economical growth and environmental preservation. I believe that he will make a more valuable and healthy book that can be applied to all people and countries if he considers a variety of situations of all countries for a sustainable alternative of ecotherapy and ecoeducation .

In conclusion, Clinebell challenges us to have to connect with our physical problems, our own mind and spirit, and ecological environment and the whole planet for finding and realizing ecotherapy. Also, he gives us vision for the future ’ s generation and environment through ecoeducation. If we read his book, we can transform our life and orientation toward an ecology-centered world. However, I am sorry that he neglects eco-culture of oriental history, lacks thought of active and practical alternatives of eco-justice, and inclines to only an orientation of the western civilization regardless of developing and poor countries. But I can find hope and vision for healing humankind and the planet together through his book, and realize how to teach eco-life and eco-spirit through ecoeducation. I recommend the book positively, because I saw a healthy and hopeful future through his mention in the postlude although he had a weak point in his book.

“ If we join in helping this ecotransformation to occur, we can rejoice with a healthier earth … . In the process of nurturing nature with loving care, we will have our own earthy self fed bountifully by the good earth. We will sing with the universe and celebrate with all the other creatures in the life-giving network of the biosphere (271) ” .


Rhoads, David, ed. 2007. Earth and Word. New York and London: The Continuum.

Tye, Karen B., 2000. Basics of Christian Education. Danvers: Chalice Press.

Boff, Leonardo, 1997. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor. NY: Orbis Books.