Hello, I’m Dr. Palmer, but here in Alaska we’re pretty informal, so you can call me DB. I have been guiding treks for 20 years, and although I have held many titles over those years, such as: Professor, Clinical Director, Executive Team Leader, Psychotherapist, Counseling Psychologist… I’ve been trained at many levels as a Swiftwater/Whitewater Rescue Technician, Wilderness EMT/WFR, Avalanche, Wilderness Safety/Bear Guard, Paddling Instructor, Adventure Filmmaker, & much more… but, the title that I am most comfortable with is ‘Guide’.
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 (Camp Ministry focus) 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.
Following that experience, I was head-hunted to start another program, this time in tribal health. I served on the executive leadership team, where I was honored to be able to start a new department from the ground-up. The Child & Youth Development department, which we grew from 2 employees to over 30 full-time staff members working in 4 divisions in just 2 years, and quickly became an organizational model for integrated service delivery across the state. We crafted new partnerships, acquired major multi-year federal grants, developed a model system of care, but… it was never my goal to stop there…
Taking it to the world.
Following the experiences that I had in these roles, it was time to invest in larger endeavors. I founded, and direct, one of Alaska’s only resident-owned TeleHealth organizations, providing counseling services across the state that has both some of the most acute needs and the least amount of accessibility to services.
In addition to Alaska Online Counseling, which delivers Counseling services to Alaska and Washington, I develop professional development courses for Psychotherapists, Adventure Leaders, and Child Development professionals. I am passionate about program development and teaching, so this venue helps to keep me academically engaged.
20 years later… The Guide Abides.
And while all of this was going on… my primary work, my passion… has always been paddling northern rivers and winter dogsledding trips. These venues have been the focus of my personal and professional work for 20 years, and they have only become more serious and further flung…
From leading treks to competitive racer.
I’ve led treks across the western states, Canada, & Alaska. I’ll spare you the trek resume, but I can’t help but to share my latest endeavors related to Canoeing… Ultra Marathon Wilderness Paddle Races! The transition from paddler and guide to competitive ultra racer has sharpened my leadership skills, my desire to share stories, and has kept wilderness travel as the core of my professional/personal life.
My son and I have paddled/finished the 444 mile Yukon River Quest, the world’s longest annual paddling race, twice now (and we’re going back for our third next summer). I have been approved to race the Yukon 1000, held every other year, and only open to a select/approved group of experienced ultra marathon wilderness paddlers.
As I work with others in the wild places, I trust you’ll come to see what I’ve been blessed to see… that God moves in wild places. God speaks in wild places. God calls us to the wilderness for many reasons. When God speaks, are you ready to listen?
Come with me to the wilderness.
DB Palmer, Ed.D, LPC-S, LMHC Backcountry Professor