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.

Summer 2015- Adventure Film & Outdoor Studies in Alaska

As we near our sophomore year of operation, we have gained traction quickly as the *first and only accredited adventure film program within a university system. We have begun some very exciting collaborations with Alaskan organizations, filmmakers, and educators; and, we are ready to offer our students unparalleled access to these opportunities.

Register for classes here! Select Summer 2015, PWSCC Campus, and ODS

Summer 2015 Options:

Dr. Palmer leading a raft trip on the Gulkana River.
Dr. Palmer leading a raft trip on the Gulkana River.

ODS 152- Beginning Rafting: Join us for a multi-day raft/float on the Copper River with the Wrangell St. Elias National Park Service from Chistochina to Chitina, Alaska. We will be shooting a short video for the National Park Service. Students are NOT required to be film students, but can assist as they choose. May 18-21/22

ODS 112- Swiftwater Rescue Technician: co-taught by ODS and Rescue 3 International.

The SRT1 course provides rescuers with the fundamentals of survival in moving water and is recommended for anyone who may be called upon to effect in-water rescues. Students gain knowledge in hydrology and river classifications, size-up, site control and scene management. Practical skills include self-rescue, swiftwater swimming and the fundamentals of shore, boat and in-water rescues. Additionally students are introduced to the basics of boat handling and the fundamentals of rope rescue including mechanical advantage and anchor systems. The SRT1 class also provides the rescuer the foundation to the NFPA Swiftwater Technician level. Swiftwater Technician level is a mandatory training level for inclusion on a Federal Emergency Management Agency Swiftwater/Flood Search and Rescue Team at all Team levels. May 29-31

ODS 295- ODS Internship (by arrangement with Dr. Palmer)

ODS 298- Adventure Research & Creative Activity: Join Dr. Palmer’s summeEFSA Circular Logo- Axes canoes and Aurorar adventure project (film-based). A collaboration with multiple adventure and wilderness-based organizations. As this is a project-based course, students will be selected based on their experience and interests.

Students in ODS 298 do not have to participate in all/any field sections to participate in this course. Participation will be discussed with Dr. Palmer, directly, as this is a creative research project.

ClassesODS 153- Beginning Sea Kayaking: Join ACA Deputy State Director/Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor, DB Palmer, for two practice evenings and then a day-trip in the Bay of Valdez, Alaska! This course is suited, and designed for, beginning sea kayakers (those with little/no experience). Join us for the chance to paddle your local paradise with small class size. Each student will paddle a solo boat! This course has three sections, and students sign up for just one of them.


Register for classes here! Select Summer 2015, PWSCC Campus, and ODS

Summer 2015 Collaborations (partial list):

BLM logoWSE NPS logoCopper River Watershed project logoRescue 3 logo



*We are the first and only accredited adventure film program housed in an academic degree program, as far as we are aware.

Dr. Palmer selected to present at UAA Faculty Research & Creative Activity Symposium

Grand Opening of the UAA Alaska Airlines Center.
Grand Opening of the UAA Alaska Airlines Center.

While his specific presentation time is still being selected, Dr. Palmer has been selected to travel to Anchorage during the First Annual UAA Faculty Research & Creative Activity Symposium, held in conjunction with the grand opening of the Alaska Airlines Center, from September 5-8th. He will speak and present a video of his current creative activity, namely Expeditionary Film School of Alaska and the Outdoor Studies department at Prince William Sound College in Valdez, Alaska.

Here is the formal abstract that was selected by the panel:


Dr. Palmer will present a behind the scenes film showing how the oft misunderstood field of Outdoor Studies can rebrand itself to address current economic and social realities, as well as be a catalyst for global health, environmental conservation, sustainability, social equity, and other critical movements. Since joining the faculty of Prince William Sound Community College, Dr. Palmer’s research activities have focused on Group Leadership and Decision-Making within Outdoor Leadership, Safety and Risk Outcomes, a full rebranding of the Outdoor Leadership program in Valdez, and the development of his newest research platform, “Expeditionary Film School of Alaska”. The adventure filmmaking concentration at PWSCC is the first, and only, degree program of its kind, anywhere. He has worked extensively with UAF Film program to develop a course articulation agreement for students transitioning from his adventure filmmaking concentration into undergraduate degree in Film Studies. He has also developed courses with Outside Magazine’s Outside Adventure Film School, and 3-time Emmy winning director, Michael Brown, of Serac Adventure Films. Michael Brown and Dr. Palmer led a 10 day adventure filmmaking field course during the spring of 2014. Dr. Palmer is leading the next adventure filmmaking field course (ODS 293) in September of 2014 with Sky Rondenet Media of Lake Tahoe, in Cordova, Alaska. Showcasing his work in, and around, Valdez, Alaska; Dr. Palmer utilizes adventure filmmaking as lead faculty of Outdoor Studies to craft student learning experiences that are laser-targeted toward career employment while engaging students within a robust experiential, liberal arts education.

Adventure Film Intensive in Cordova, Alaska!

Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, Alaska.
Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, Alaska.

ODS 293- Adventure Filmmaking Field Seminar is open for registration!

Ever wanted to learn how to make your own adventure film? The ODS Adventure Film program brings in a well-known adventure filmmaker to co-teach this course, and each student gets the chance to plan, shoot, edit, and distribute their short adventure film. This course focuses on filmmaking, more than elite adventure skills, so it is appropriate for a wider range of students.
Students must be approved by Lead Faculty DB Palmer in order to take this course, as this is a very self-driven, fast paced course. Travel with us from Valdez, Alaska to Cordova on the AK State Ferry, stay in the luxurious Orca Adventure Lodge for 3 days, and then return to Valdez to edit your film; all with the support of our amazing faculty and staff.
Sky Rondenet
Sky Rondenet

This course features Sky Rondenet, filmmaker from Lake Tahoe, whose work can be seen here: and watch her films, such as the 4th Annual Pain McConkey, “Shorter: Width is the Reward”. A note for locals: This course only requires 3 field days, on location. You can complete the editing portion in the evenings, if necessary, as long as you keep up.

Don’t let this one slip away!
Course specifics:
Field Dates: Sept 22-25
Valdez Dates: from Sept 25-27
Valdez Adventure Film Night 9/27
Register by emailing or online at:

Have you seen our student films?

One of our students in the previous semester’s Adventure Filmmaking Field Seminar completed the film, “Get Out”, in just 10 days of filming, adventures, and editing. Fantastic work, Adam!

Our next field-based course is ODS 293, Adventure Filmmaking Field Seminar, taking place in CORDOVA ALASKA over six (6) days, including the Alaska State Ferry, backpacking, camping, and access to the University of Alaska / Prince William Sound College Digital Video Editing Studio in Valdez, Alaska. The course features Michael Brown and DB Palmer as co-leaders and faculty. Our last trek was full, and we expect this trek to fill very quickly. Keep watching the website for more info or email to get on the list!

What’s happening this summer?

pioneer outfitters & terry overlyODS 293 ST: Adventure Filmmaking Field Seminar- Alaskan Backcountry Horse-Packing (3)- Bb/Web with field dates (6/16-26), and class dates at the end (6/27-30)- course fee $1255. This is an EPIC TREK-BASED course!

ODS 298 Film Research (3) June 7-14, 8am-8pm, course fee $75- Instructor permission or prereq.- Local Course!AFSA PWSCC

ODS 153 Beginning Sea Kayaking (1)- August 13 & 14 6-8pm, and field dates of Aug 15-17, additional course fee $200

ODS 167 Intro to the Study of Adventure Film (3)- Totally Online.

Email Shannon Foster (registrar) at
Go online at
See you in class!