At Passages Alaska, participants have a minimum of 2 individual therapeutic sessions each week. Every evening after dinner, students participate in “Truth Circle” where students discuss highs and lows of the day, lessons learned, and a topic relevant to the current group dynamic. There is also a weekly group session led by their clinician.

After Truth Circle, each student with their designated guide, together evaluates the student’s day in terms of group interaction, progress toward goals, and current mood. It serves as a means of keeping track of individual progress on a daily basis.

Sean Tomkinson, in addition to being the owner and Clinical Director is as well a licensed Coast Guard Captain and fishing guide. During the summer months, when the fishing is good, we use “Fishing Therapy” as means of creating a peak experience that lends itself to larger life lessons. Sean takes a very hands-on approach and is involved in every aspect of the work at Passages Alaska.

Clinician directed care

"Sean Tomkinson and his team at Passages Alaska worked magic on our son. They provided exactly the right balance of support and challenges to help him acquire critical life skills that will serve him for the rest of his life. His three months in the Alaskan islands was by far the most positive and constructive episode of his life. We recommend Passages Alaska enthusiastically for struggling young people."

Stephen, Maryland

We have a 280-page curriculum book that students use to mark their progress and learning. It combines woods and water wisdom, traditional stories, therapeutic topics and exercises. As students progress through the personal stages in the book, their progress can be seen in the program. They are then able to take on responsibility and learn life principles.

We use evidence based clinical knowledge including MCBT Mindfulness based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. If a student progresses to the point that they are ready to address trauma, we can use EMDR, Brain spotting, and Somatic Experiencing to address those challenges. Clinicians take these skills and interweave them with the magic that is Nature to create an intervention that is simply unattainable in a traditional setting. We are very comfortable working with challenges that arise related to attachment and adoption/foster families.

therapeutic process

The clinicians collaborate with the guide team, our participants and their families to tailor interventions and activities that transform therapeutic ideas into tangible experiences; experiences that transform lives.

We use the Marco Polo app to facilitate recorded dialogue between parents and their participants. It creates a venue where families can visibly see the transformation that is taking place. Additionally, it facilitates thoughtful interchange not just the emotional and sometimes reactive responses to which families may be accustomed. Students look forward to messages from loved ones which they share with their group members. This creates an environment where not just the students know each other but involved family members are acquainted with the guys in the woods. This supports a much more authentic environment when students discuss “life back home’ with their peers. These "discussions" are prompted by the weekly calls between the families and their clinician.

The weekly parent forum completes the circle. The parent forum is led by the group’s clinician or another familiar staff member. Parents are kept up to date about the happenings in the group and discuss a relevant topic. Parents often develop a camaraderie that reduces feelings of isolation and helps to develop informal support. Healing happens in relationships and we do all we can to foster healthy relationships among all who we encounter.

Our overarching therapeutic goal is to prepare students for whatever the next step is in their lives and to help them develop a foundation upon which to build the very best version of themselves.

Family Relation

Passages Alaska clinicians are Masters level and have been Behavioral Health Practitioners that have had their own personal wilderness-based epiphanies. They are clinicians that have practiced both indoors and outdoors, and are able to meld behavioral health best practices with a dynamic environment in nature.

Clinician Qualifications

"Our overarching therapeutic goal is to prepare students for whatever the next step is in their lives and to help them build a foundation upon which to build the very best version of themselves."

Sean Tomkinson (Owner and Lead Clinician)

Active Interventions Bring Therapeutic Principles to Life

Many people consider fishing to be therapy in its purest form. Others take it less seriously, but the lessons one can learn from the act of enticing a fish to take bait or a lure easily translate to valuable life lessons. There is deep satisfaction that comes being able to provide a gift to add to the evening meal. As well as being able to donate the extra sustenance with those in the community to those who are less fortunate. Thus, teaching our students to become givers instead of takers. Work towards catching a king size fish from the deep sea can also be a big self confidence builder. More therapeutic work happens in this environment through conversations when the student's walls are down. This less formal environment allows for those conversations as well as working on peer relationships.

Fishing Therapy

Passages Alaska staff and students travel to and camp on beaches both as primary destinations and en-route to other places. Even on the most pristine beaches there is accumulated and scattered plastic debris. No matter a person’s perspective, finding garbage in an otherwise unspoiled place is a disagreeable experience. In addition to the reduced quality of a person’s experience, plastic debris poses a threat to marine life. We do our part to improve the experience for others and help the environment by gathering and disposing of garbage that has accumulated in these wild and wonderful places. In tandem, the constantly rising and falling tide, the waves and weather bring up more trash, similar to the students having to repeatedly work on issues that show up. Instilling the idea that life work and being able to adapt is continuous. This naturally facilitates an active mindfulness practice which is key to our therapeutic approach. At Passages Alaska we make every effort to maximize the therapeutic benefits of being by the ocean. This exemplifies the studies of "Blue Space" the study of being by the water changes oxford academic states inn their review that there were potential health benefits of living near water the neuropathways of the brain, changes in perception, and boosts creativity. (oxford acadmeic)

Beach CLean Up

Starting and maintaining a cooking fire in our rainforest home requires a level of proficiency. One guide stated, "Being able to have heat and warm food requires planning consistent effort and persistence." In addition to providing for our own firewood needs, there is also space for altruism. Passages Alaska staff and students directly improve other people’s life circumstances by cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood. We provide firewood for Forest Service recreation cabins and for seniors or other families in need.

Firewood Gathering

Our students learn that they not only can coexist, but that they can THRIVE in a wilderness environment. Research has shown that the biggest factor that sets the effectiveness of outdoor adventure therapy apart from the more traditional, office-based approach is, are you ready for this, The Outdoors! The hammocks the students sleep in provide a warm snug haven rather than sleeping on the ground. When people are able to safely live in a novel environment and experience safe healthy relationships in that setting, it creates a situation where a person is able to grow in ways that are incomparable to literally anything else in our hustle and bustle modern world. Prince of Wales Island is a world class destination. Combine the natural beauty and dynamic nature of this place with the talents of our staff and it makes for a unique experience that will develop confidence and inspire growth in its participants.

Camping and primitive skills
Daily reflection

At the end of each day, each person; students and staff alike take the time to reflect on how they felt each day and how they responded to situations that arose. This is the safe space where everyone can feel comfortable to open up and be vulnerable if needed. The group is concluded with different themes each night that is provided in the curriculum book. These can be deep introspective questions or a fun topic. In turn they will have those around them listening with an open heart and mind. A large portion of the growth and change that happens in the program is able to come about in this space, because students have the opportunity to really evaluate how their actions affect them and those around them for both good and bad. Through becoming comfortable in talking about our feelings and other things that may be difficult, we practice essential life skills and become more able to accept change.

Canoe Travel

The foundational activity at Passages Alaska is traveling by canoe. It is a full-time exercise in mindfulness and cooperation. Just as in life, the canoe responds to the movements of the paddler. It takes constant awareness and consistent effort to travel and reach our destination. This effort can be between a field guide and a student, creating a relationship of teamwork rather than student vs staff. Participants are required to wear a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device any time they are on the water. Students are taught navigation skills and to observe and evaluate water and weather conditions to help ensure safe travel. The canoe is used to represent the student’s life and to constantly demonstrate the value of balance. Each day the canoe before is loaded with the possessions that make the student’s travels comfortable and safe there is always a group chant of, "THANK YOU ALASKA." Gratitude is one of the large life lessons we teach at Passages Alaska. At the end of each day the canoe is emptied and washed of any collected dirt, sand or debris, representing the ability to start each day with a clean slate if we make the needed effort.