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Cover of the Fall/Winter 2003 SFSU Magazine. Photo of Professor and talk radio show host, Michael Krasny.


SFSU Magazine Online, Spring/Summer 2003, Volume 3, Number 2.

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Alumni & FriendsPsychologist Tom Pinkson strumming his guitar in his San Raphael office. Photo by Lui Gino de Grandis


Providing Safe Passage

For 30 years, psychologist Tom Pinkson (B.S. '67) has been leading people on "vision quests" in the High Sierra. Inspired by Native American ritual, the retreats give participants an opportunity to evaluate their spiritual beliefs and life goals in the solitude of nature. The tradition grew out of a wilderness recovery program he created while directing a drug treatment clinic in Marin County in the 1970s.

Pinkson says his interest in spirituality started at age four, when his father died. It taught him a harsh lesson in impermanence, he says, "and eventually motivated me to explore indigenous cultures, seeking answers to questions about life and death that my Western culture was not really addressing at the time."

After finishing his Ph.D. in psychology at San Francisco's Saybrook Institute in 1976, Pinkson got some surprising advice from Bill Lammers, one of the psychiatrists on his doctoral committee. "When I asked him what kind of people I would be good at working with, he totally shocked me by responding, 'People who are dying. You've been taking people out on vision quests, and those who are dying are on a quest as well,'" Pinkson recalls.

The suggestion led him to Marin's Center for Attitudinal Healing, which offers support and services to people coping with terminal illness. Pinkson works as a clinical consultant to assist the Center's staff and volunteers, and provides counseling to children who visit the Center.

Pinkson was honored last winter at the Center's annual fund-raising gala for 25 years of providing emotional support to critically ill children.

"They need love, just like the rest of us do," he says, "and the opportunity to talk openly about how they are feeling and to explore their ideas about death, dying and what happens afterwards without fear of judgment or pressure on what they should believe."

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-- Adrianne Bee


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