Compassionate Conversations with Ailsa Robson

What do two Walk and Talk Therapists who live and work across the world from each other chat about? Life long learning, the expectations of others, perfectionism through generations and being open to different ways of perceiving health, sex and therapy.

Denice and I have both experienced personal break throughs which have enhanced our family lives and our therapeutic work. We touched on body image struggles, control and perfectionism, and trying different somatic therapeutic experiences such as sound baths and psychedelics in therapy.

It’s a wonderful, rich conversation, and shows just how your therapist is also growing through their important work with you.

Set an intention to expand on some of your thoughts, and listen in.

Click here to read transcript of the interview with Denice Crowe Clark...

Ailsa
Welcome Denice Crowe Clark. I am so pleased to have you with me today. Denice is a fellow therapist who is in Atlanta, Georgia, and I’m in Adelaide in South Australia. So we have found each other across the way. And I’m ever so grateful that you’re here with me today, Denice.

Denice Crowe Clark
And it’s my honor. I’m so excited.

Ailsa
Denice, would you like to introduce your therapy practice?

Denice Crowe Clark
Sure. So, my practice is Sole to Soul Therapy & Consulting, and like, Ailsa, I am a walk and talk therapist.

Ailsa
Yes, yes, I’m absolutely excited. I think you are one of the first walk and talk therapists that I got in touch with properly and we had a really lovely chat about our work, because there’s a lot of work and talk therapists across the world. But we all do things slightly differently. And it seemed that we were very, very aligned in our practices. And our philosophies. Behind our practices, person centered, and making sure that clients have choice, and that we’re not dictating that they need to walk to exercise and follow our lead. It was certainly about journeying with our clients themselves, right?

Denice Crowe Clark
Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Ailsa
Yeah. So I’ve alluded a little bit to our connection, but how do you like, how do you feel we connected as well, Denice?

Denice Crowe Clark
I mean, I know that we found each other on Instagram, and I don’t know who found who first. But I definitely have always been drawn to your Instagram. Yours is one I check regularly, I love the variety of the scenery that you have. And then like you said, we did chat and talked, we talked business, we talked our approach, we talked about our personal lives and just you know how we came to this work and yes, yeah, and I do like you said, I do agree that we are we are very aligned in a lot of different ways.

Ailsa
Yeah. How magical is that? To find each other across the world from each other? Yeah. And I’m very inspired by you and by your practice and where where you’re heading, but maybe I should first of all, let you introduce a little bit more about what intentions and roles fill your days.

Denice Crowe Clark
My dog is barking.

Denice Crowe Clark
A dog mum, that’s one thing. Wife, mother, mother of grown children, and a son in law and as soon to be son in law, grandchildren. So beyond my professional roles, those are my mother and daughter and other roles. And then, you know, I think just in general, I’m a lifelong learner. I’ve just always learning, reading, seeking knowledge, expanding my horizons. If I could get paid to be in school full time, that’s what I would do. I would be a lifelong student. And yeah, that’s torturous for some, but I absolutely love it.

Ailsa
I appreciate that and you’ve done so much that you came into private practice. Like, Well, yeah. When did you when did you start private practice?

Unknown Speaker
So I started private practice. Actually, in midlife, I went back to school to become a therapist in my 40s, after being at home with my children for a lot of years, and I homeschooled off and on for about 17 years. And then long story short, as a family, we ended up in therapy, family therapy. And me and individual therapy. And that was really the beginning of my journey back into creating a life for myself, because that’s one of the things I realized I needed to have a life of my own to be the best mom, best wife best me. And so then that’s when I went back to school and became a therapist. So that was, that was 2000, started in 2006, and finished up in 2008. And so that’s when I began practicing 2008 and then went back to get my PhD in my late 40s. Finished in my early 50s.

Ailsa
Congratulations. I don’t think there’s ever a time that it isn’t right to study and to pursue something that gives you. Yeah, life and an interest and passion. That’s wonderful. I think that’s yeah, definitely some synchronicities with me there, too. And when you said that you went and had some therapy yourself? There was obviously, there was that knowledge that you needed to take care of yourself more? So I’m sure that self compassion became really key, then is that right?

Unknown Speaker
Yes. And that’s ongoing. But I think one of the things that really came out during that time was I, I had lived my life to the expectations of others. And I was also raising my children that way. You have to be a certain way, look a certain way, do a certain thing, have certain grades, fit a certain mold, and I credit my oldest daughter for really busting those generational patterns wide open. That’s, that’s why we ended up in family therapy. And that’s when I came to realize that, first of all, she needed to be her creative, expressive self. And I needed to foster that. But in doing so, I also needed to take a look at myself and figure out what it was that inspired me what, you know, what shackles that had I allowed to be put on that work confining me to fulfill roles that really weren’t intended for me and what what was my goal?

Ailsa
Oh, that’s, that’s juicy. I love it. I love it. It’s feels similar to when I found Health at Every Size. And I started kind of breaking down that idea of, of there was such a thing as a good body in a bad body. And kind of unpacking that. And then now, it’s helped me in so many other ways to kind of split open my idea at the moment. I’m really interested in a lot more sex positive conversations and discussions, so about relationships, and I’m working with a lot of clients in all sorts of relationships and with all sorts of intimate lives. And it’s been really important for me, to not be working from my own kind of boxed perspective of what a relationship looks like or sexuality, gender, it’s goes on and on. So this yeah, breaking open those structures and figuring out like, where they came from and and why we’ve been shackled to them has been really important.

Denice Crowe Clark
Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And that’s also one of the reasons why I think I’ve been so drawn to you that the heatlh at any size and you know, my own struggles with body image and weight in those molds that I didn’t fit in, and, you know, starting to realize some now why, where they came from, I mean, I knew where they came from, but why – some of the reasons why I don’t fit the mold, let’s just put it that way. But that that’s okay. And we can be we can be healthy and fit and positive and energetic and well, no matter what our bodies look like. And then when you’re talking about the variety of relationships, and sex positive, you know, I have two grown daughters that have also challenged my thought process around that as well. Because I mean, you and I came up in a generation that were taught very different things. And so, you know, between that, and my therapy education, I’m like you, looking at things very differently and, far more open to to the differences in the way people present in relationship and sexuality and in the spectrum. It’s not black and white.

Ailsa
No, no, we all live in gray. We all live in gray. And that’s the beautiful thing. And that idea of perfection of there is no such thing, there’s just no, it’s not black and white, it’s not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just whatever you want your life to be. And, if you are comfortable and confident and living a value-based approach in life, then you are aligned, you’re aligned with, who you are and who you are becoming – because we’re always becoming somebody, aren’t we? We’re not ever just static. And, that’s that’s the beauty of working with a therapist who can journey with you along the way. Because sometimes the smallest seeds are sown, and they’re so influential. I mean, maybe it’s not even a therapist, like years ago when I when I was offered a book about not dieting from a non diet dietitian. And that’s changed my world. And that was just one moment in time. And I was really reluctant. I was really reluctant. Yeah. So Denice, I know that also we talked a little bit before we started recording about your new venture, that you’ve been doing some study into psychedelics and therapy. And I’m, again, I suppose this is another part of breaking out of the mold, although, as you’ve discussed, this has been going on for for many, many, many decades. But now in a mainstream context. Would you like to share a little bit about about how you came to it, maybe.

Denice Crowe Clark
Sure , so back to my children. My children challenge me in a lot of ways. And they have been exposed to a lot more things than I have been and kind of brought my attention to psychedelics. Not directly but indirectly and then I just started paying attention. Mama bear’s like, what are you talking about? You know, making sure my babies are safe. And started researching and a colleague that I had met not too long ago, began investigating psychedelics and was experiencing her own journey she traveled to somewhere where it was legal. And and I was very intrigued. And through my research began to understand that, you know, back in the 50s, 60s, early 70s, there was tons of research on the effectiveness of psychedelics for a variety of things, post traumatic stress, depression, end of life issues, anxiety, and then all of a sudden, no research, I mean, it was basically shut down. And so for a number of decades, nothing but starting in the 90s, research has slowly emerged again, and now we’re in what you could call a psychedelic Renaissance. And so, in the US, ketamine, which is typically used as an anesthesia, in lower doses can be used as a psychedelic. And that’s one of the things that’s clinical. And so, long story short, I began following my colleagues journey, she and I began exploring what’s legal, and what training programs there are out there. And so I am in the process of becoming a psychedelic assisted therapist. I am training with the integrative psychiatry Institute out of Boulder, Colorado, and I’ve had a few experiences now. Legal experiences, just want to put that out there. But discovering that the mechanisms in which it works, the neural connections and the way that it helps open up the brain and allows for rewiring of the brain. Yeah, really has a lot of potential to help people who have struggled to find things that work for them.

Ailsa
Yes. As I, as I said to you, before, I’ve heard bits and pieces about it, certainly more and more becoming talked about mainstream and through mental health forums and networks. And also on our ABC, Australia, National Youth Radio Station, Triple J, they had a little bit of a piece on how it also assists, as you alluded to people in palliative end of life anxiety, and and helping them come to terms with with some some of their struggles, possibly before they pass away. Yeah. So yeah, I am fascinated, and I’m really intrigued, and I’ll be following closely. And I, I know that you also said that the perfectionism and compassion has have really popped up recently for you. Is that something?

Denice Crowe Clark
Yeah. So through through a couple of my psychedelic journeys. I’ll tell you one in particular, it’s important when you go into and this is something that’s maybe different from the way people typically think about psychedelics, you know, people think of them at music festivals or raves or.. but in this type of setting, it’s important to do preparation and set an intention and have the appropriate mindset going in and a safe and controlled setting, and then doing integration afterwards. And so, I went into one of my …

Denice Crowe Clark
Did you have a question?

Ailsa
I was just going to also say that you you let me know that those settings are within a kind of a medical?

Unknown Speaker
Yes. So the ketamine assisted therapy, ketamine is approved in the US by the FDA and protocol is a medical prescriber has to administer and supervise the the administration and the session. Yeah, it’s important to mention that.

Ailsa
I think so because people have different ideas in their mind about what’s what’s happening here.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And so during that one particular journey, I had set my intention I was seeking clarity and direction. And so your intention is kind of a an anchor and a guide, but it’s more of an open handed, this is what I desire and then releasing control rather than I demanded this. So in the journey, I kept seeing what look like a topographical map. And I kept trying to zoom in and what you know, where’s my direction? Where’s my map? show me show me. And what I got from it was stop trying to control everything stop trying to figure everything out down to the last detail. Just go with it. So, so yes. Flow and not trying to make everything align and be just perfect. Just just flow with it. And it’s okay.

Ailsa
Yeah, that’s great. I had a sound bath experience a little while ago. And for me, I kind of set the intention of flow. And I was searching for expansion. Actually, that’s what I was asking for. And, I came out of it with this, just understanding that the only thing that’s holding me back is myself. Yes. And there are options in every step of the way in almost in every moment. And the shackles that I felt that were kind of pulling on me were just – there weren’t real. They weren’t real. Yeah. So I had choices about how to unshackle myself.

Denice Crowe Clark
Yeah, I’m so glad you mentioned sound math, because I also want to draw attention to the fact that you can have expansive mystical experiences without introducing medicines, psychedelic substances, you can do it through sound bath, through yoga, through meditation, through breath work, through exercise, you know, the runner’s high is a state.

Ailsa
Yeah, the things that I figured out on my runs… there was always that opportunity to walk into, go into a run and feel like there was an answer at the end of it. Even at the end of a workout, you know, where you feel like you’re so constricted as you go in, and then you just loosen up and things just feel more natural. Yeah. And on our walk and talk with clients, as well. I love having chats about what you found, the synchronicities and the metaphors, that you found along the way, or your clients have found along the way.

Ailsa
It’s when you know, things when things pop up, somebody is talking your clients often talking about something and then it presents itself within, you know, within the natural environment.

Denice Crowe Clark
Yeah, I know, we were talking about life choices. And this individual kept choosing the same thing. And it felt like they were spinning their wheels and right about that time, we came to a fork in the path. And the one way went around a little loop. And then the other way, you know, was kind of unknown. And so, it was like, it’s just like right here, it’s just like this path, you know, if you keep choosing this, you’re gonna keep going around in circles. Yeah.

Ailsa
Yeah, there’s always something that pops up along the way. And you take your clients within different parks, is that right?

Denice Crowe Clark
So for the last seven years, I’ve been in a single park, but recently I moved a little bit out into the suburbs of Atlanta and so now I have two more locations. So I’ve got three locations all total, and a couple of other places I’ve scouted out.

Ailsa
It’s lovely having those different options, isn’t it? I I have the Adelaide Hills which has quite a few different spots. There’s a lake in the middle of one of the towns that often lots of people don’t know that’s there and it’s amongst all these residential homes, so that’s lovely to walk down there. But it depends on the terrain, as well, if people want a flatter walk – you don’t have too many choices in the hills, you’re going to come across a hill somewhere along the way, it’s just how big the hill is. And then down at the ocean, there’s options to walk along the path or go down on the sand, sometimes to walk through the water together. And then there’s another at the end of a river, we can walk around as well. And, and often we spot dolphins along the way. So, that’s really fantastic, too. And then the seasons, you have fantastic seasons as well, where you are like, Ish.

Unknown Speaker
Ish. Yeah, we don’t we don’t usually have snow, if we have snow everywhere, everything shuts down. But if we’re lucky, we get really beautiful fall foliage. It does cool off a little bit. But here in here in Georgia, it’s hot a lot of the time.

Ailsa
Yeah. So were certainly a little bit more varied, we could we go from 40 plus degrees centigrade. So I think that’s around your 100. Right. Yeah. And then we go down to, I don’t know, like, I think, in the early teens, so you know, maybe 12, like 13. We generally don’t get snow either, but it’s certainly cool. So there’s quite a difference in the seasons. And those seasonal changes are really special, too. Since I last spoke with you, I have begun packages, these immersion packages with clients, and I travel with them for three months at a time. And that’s been really lovely, because it takes you sometimes from the end of one season into another. And that transition, that cyclic transition is… I feel like it’s part of the process. Yeah, it aligns with with our work as we move from one point at the beginning of that three month journey together to the end where you’ve actually moved through a season.

Denice Crowe Clark
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And I one thing I do love about my area is the trees are absolutely gorgeous. And I love the difference from season to season in the trees. And the metaphor, you mentioned metaphor earlier, the metaphor in what’s going on with the trees from season to season. And it’s a visual representation and embodied representation of what our clients are going through in their life’s journey.

Ailsa
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So I wonder, maybe, when we’re talking about perfection and compassion, have you had any sort of lightbulb moments about perfection within your work and, and how that has it popped up for you, perfectionism, recently in your work?

Denice Crowe Clark
So Well, I mean, it pops up all the time. But I do want to mention particularly aligned with your Health at Every Size. When I first started walk and talk therapy, and I had read about it, and I loved the idea and I was actively running at that point in time. And I was I was a good bit smaller. I know that’s a judgment, but it’s important to the story. Between when I learned about walk and talk and actually opened my practice, I was a little bit heavier. And you know, the what are my clients gonna think of me as a walk and talk therapist, that’s a larger person. Yeah. And it was interesting. That’s also the point in time when I was doing my dissertation research, and I came across Kate Hays book on exercise in psychotherapy. And she talked about how one of the drawbacks of engaging in physical activity with your clients is – Your clients can view it as a competition. And particularly if you are super fit or super athletic, and I thought this is this is working in my favor. When my clients show up, and they see I know you’re walking all day, you know, sometimes cover 12/13 miles. Yeah. You know. And so it just goes to show that any body and any ability too, I mean, there are individuals who I know are walk and talk and roll therapists that accompany their clients with their adaptive modes of transportation. Yeah, yeah. So it shows up that way. It shows up in just in, in my work from day to day in realizing I don’t have to have all the answers. That’s not what I’m there for. Yeah, I’m there to hold a safe space for my clients. So they can figure things out on their own. And it’s a live and learn process, which is also what I try to instill in my clients. You know, you screw up one day, okay. What did you learn in that? Yeah. Did you die? No, you didn’t die? It’s okay. You know, what did we learn, what do you want to do differently next time? Or if you want to still stay there, that’s your choice.

Ailsa
That’s right. Exactly. And that is meeting people where they’re at, isn’t it? It’s not kind of pushing, pushing forward, if they’re not ready. Sometimes just the act of witnessing their story without, without trying to fix without trying to mend without trying to, influence the outcome is so important. It’s so important, because we often we don’t have that in our life, we don’t have somebody just listening to all of our imperfect stories and holding space for them.

Denice Crowe Clark
Yeah, we may be the very first person in their lives to accept them for who they are, where they are, and, and let them know, they’re beautiful. They’re worthy. They’re acceptable. They’re exceptional. Just as they are.

Ailsa
They’re lovable. Yes. Yeah. Absolutely. I love it. And, and you’re right, that the imperfection that comes in, in the offering as well, I think is great, too, I certainly make mistakes along the way. And, with feedback from my clients and checking in to see if I’m on track, or if I’ve, if I need to do something different next time, if the pace needs to be done different, or the questioning needs to be different, then that helps me come to terms with Yeah, the imperfection in a therapeutic relationship, like there is the imperfection in any relationship. And finding the comfort within the discomfort. Because that’s the only way that we can grow isn’t if we’re compassionate with ourselves, when we’re stumbling and also having a grace and a humility, like, you know, to have humility to understand that you’re not going to get it right all the time. That’s I think that’s my, that’s yeah, life.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. Not going to get it right all the time. And also the realization that I’m not the best therapist for everyone. I’m not gonna, you know, I’m not going to be the right fit for everyone. And I, that’s something I tell my clients very first session. You know, where we’ll try this out. We’ll see if it’s a good fit, you know, you can let me know what’s working, what’s not if you know if I can make those adjustments, and it be a good fit for you great. If not, I’m going to try to find you, who’s going to be a good fit for you. Because this is about it’s about them. It’s not about me.

Ailsa
Exactly. Yeah, I agree. This is wonderful, Denice, I am. I’m thrilled I will have all of your links below so people can follow you and have a look at what you’re up to when and where your practice is leading you of course, this recording goes out to the world and I really hope that there’s some people close by you or maybe even, you have online therapy options as well, right like I do.

Ailsa
I do, but I’m limited to people who are physically located in the state of Georgia. In the US. Yeah. Licensing. But I am expanding into some wellness coaching. So, okay, I have to figure out the ethics and legal legality of that. Yeah.

Ailsa
In the meantime, it’s just wonderful to be able to follow you via social media and see what’s going on. And again, I am so grateful for your time. We could talk all day about all these things.

Denice Crowe Clark
Yes, we could. Thank you so much for having me.

Ailsa
My pleasure. My pleasure. Denice, take care. Bye

 

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Ailsa Robson has a private counselling and psychotherapy practice in Adelaide and consults with clients in Stirling and Glenelg, SA as well as online. She has a Masters Degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy and is the author of Perfectly Imperfect.