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,'"
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."