Adventure Filmmaking as a Wilderness Therapy

Becoming a leader

For two decades I’ve been leading youth, young adults, and adults through wild and remote places. For two decades, I’ve guided the personal journey of aspiring leaders and troubled youth. The single-most common challenge that I’ve seen is in the difficulty for people to see themselves with clarity, as the main “character” in their story, and to grasp the immensity of their personal responsibility for their lives… past, present, and future. Life rarely happens “to” us, unless we let it. We are the hero in our story, and not every story ends well. There are no guarantees for a happy, prosperous life. In order for change to occur, for the story to become reality, we must act.


Telling my story

Since my beginning days in the field of outdoor leadership and wilderness therapy, back in 2000, I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay of group psychology and wilderness leadership. The relationship between great leaders and their group members has far less to do with technical mastery, or rock star status, and far more to do with trust, belief in the potential of one another, and with communication. This, in fact, is what drew me to continue my education and training beyond my undergraduate degree in Recreation Management to graduate and post-graduate studies, ultimately culminating with my doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology and directing the Counseling & Career Center for Alaska Pacific University.

As I began the next phase of my career as an Assistant Professor of Outdoor Leadership for the University of Alaska, I was tasked with redesigning a start-up program, and making it a niche, viable program. Seeing that most of the nationwide programs in the field of outdoor leadership had stagnated into copy/paste programs focused on very generalized skills and theoretical courses, I initiated a new adventure film program for the University and succeeded in getting regional accreditation and course articulation agreements with partnering universities and organizations. It was the first fully articulated adventure film concentration of its kind in any outdoor leadership or recreation program. I continue to teach Psychology and Outdoor Leadership courses for the University of Alaska.


Adventure Film as Wilderness Therapy

What I saw as missing from outdoor leadership programs was a mechanism to “tell the story and share the journey”. It is this intentional storytelling that has been the consistent theme in my own journey, from outdoor leader to psychotherapist. Seeking to understand and to communicate an experience, whether your own or another’s, one must be able to make decisions based on the information available, and to seek the information that is needed to complete the story. This ability to create distance from the story and follow a cognitive structure is quite similar to the process of Cognitive Behavioral therapies. The ability to intuit deeper, often unspoken, narrative follows both psychodynamic and narrative therapeutic modalities, as well as numerous others. The choices that I make in both previsualization and post-production editing often follow my own existential striving to seek and express meaning and purpose, which is hallmark to Existential psychotherapy.


Taking the next step

In order to address the issues and challenges of our post-modern life, we will utilize wilderness expeditions as the stage and adventure film-making as the catalyst for therapeutic discovery and spiritual and personal growth. Having worked for and directed programs across the country and internationally, I know the challenges and limitations of running large programs. I will be part of every course and personally involved with every family. Courses for young adults (18+) will range from 7 to 60 days in duration.

"What I am passionate about is leading custom-tailored treks for individuals and small groups in some of the most epic locations available, in Alaska, the U.S., and abroad." -DB Palmer

How to get involved?

I am working with land managers, allied organizations, and outdoor brands to pave the way for a start date in 2017. The first dates on the calendar will likely be a Men’s course, in January or February (2017), for a winter-based adventure in the cold, dark interior of Alaska. This trip will be based at our basecamp, with wood-heated tents under the northern lights. Our focus will be both the reflective and active nature of our lives. There is no one offering a program of this nature, and the group will be capped at a maximum capacity of 5 young men. Programs are for those that are 18+ only.


Email me for more information and/or to be added to our communications for this, and future, programs. backcountryprof@gmail.com

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