Alumnus Blends Passion for Outdoors with Therapy and Film

By Zeke Willcox '18
9/27/2018 10:42:17 PM

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Dr. DB Palmer ’01 has worn a myriad of hats in his professional career. Whether he’s filming in the Alaskan wilderness, supporting families as a social worker, leading therapy treks in the north, kayaking the Yukon River in British Columbia, Canada, or developing outdoor youth group programs, Palmer’s motivation in every position is to serve as a guide.

“That mentality for me has stuck in everything I do, whether it’s from the corporate office here, or with family, youth or in film, I [say to myself] ‘okay, this is all guiding in one way or another’ and the environment just changes,” Palmer said.

Palmer received his bachelor’s degree from JBU in camp and recreation management with hopes of operating his own youth and family outdoor programs. His wife Greta graduated in 2001 with the same degree.

Sharing a similar attraction to forested landscapes and running waterfalls, the couple desired to live somewhere remote. Living in Ely, Minnesota, from 2001 to 2003, Palmer and his wife worked seasonally in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as tour guides.

Palmer also began work as a wilderness therapist, a role which changed the trajectory of his career.

“Wilderness therapy immerses both the client and the clinician in the wilderness and in an adventure environment which acts as part of the treatment as a place of healing and discovery, often through the use of natural consequences, exercise, reflection, group and individual group tasks,” Palmer said. “[The experience] removes most of the barriers of both time and hierarchy that can often stand in the way of the therapeutic relationship.”

In this environment, Palmer found purpose and contentment, thus he returned to school to sharpen his skills in wilderness work and deepen his knowledge in counseling and psychology. Palmer earned a master’s degree from Prescott College in adventure-based psychotherapy in 2004, his master’s in marriage and family counseling in 2007 from Liberty University and his doctorate in counseling psychology at Argosy University in Seattle in 2013.

Palmer and his family then moved further north to live in the Last Frontier, a common nickname for Alaska, where they currently reside in Copperville, Alaska.

For Palmer, Alaska provides him with all the necessities essential to him: gorgeous living environment, supportive and encouraging friends, and ample therapeutic work opportunities.

“I’ve learned along the way, there is a tremendous amount of work to do,” he said. “You can blend both passion for the outdoors, for wild places with very dynamic and very interesting work… the landscape itself is just incredibly inspiring.”

In all his many work experiences, Palmer found wilderness therapy to be the most challenging as it dealt with difficult situations with unpredictable weather and a crowd of people.

“In those positions, I firmly believe working as an outdoor leader with groups of people, particularly in the north country, in warmer places as well but definitely up in the cold, really fosters that [mind]set of ‘we have to get this done and how do we have a good time and grow at the same time,” Palmer said.

But the alluring Alaskan wilderness and Palmer’s outdoor work sparked in him a new passion –filmmaking.

“I led a number of trips across the decades and always struggled to figure out how in the world I could relate the stories and the experiences I had,” he said.

While trekking through the wilderness, Palmer found that simply taking pictures or well-written storytelling didn’t quite capture the full essence of his experiences. So, he documented it on film.

In 2013, Palmer began the first adventure film program within the University of Alaska, “Expeditionary Film School of Alaska,” where students learned various techniques and skills of outdoor wilderness, filmmaking and survival.

While he no longer works with the film school, Palmer continues to film and edit projects on the side, like a father and son pack-rafting expedition on the Yukon River or an ice-climbing festival in Valdez, Alaska.

Palmer now works as the director of child and youth development for the Copper River Native Association. In this newly created position, Palmer assists in creating youth programs for infants to young adults in both native and non-native families.

“I really love program development and that goes back all the way to my JBU days within the camp and recreation management degree,” Palmer said. “That is what I enjoyed most about the degree – the ability to academically study programs and learn how to create programs based on course topic. That to me has been a continuing skill set.”

His additional responsibilities include supervising staff over the different programs and working to generate an internship that allows adventurous students to work with the Copper River Native Association and taste the Last Frontier’s culture and wilderness.

“I think what’s he’s done reinforces the creativity part of the degree,” Greg Robinson, JBU associate professor of outdoor leadership ministries, said. “He perused additional education, which he partnered well right alongside outdoor leadership experience and has continued to find ways to use the outdoors as a therapeutic means of helping people grow. I think he’s a great testament to the fact that there’s not just one way to use this [degree].”