New Roots Therapy Blog

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Understanding Relationship Ambivalence: Part 2

Co-Written By: Melissa Kroonenberg & Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapists and Relationship Therapists

Last week’s blog focused on understanding relationship ambivalence and highlighted some common factors that keep people feeling stuck in a state of uncertainty about their relationship, including: fearing the consequences, experiencing a split between values, and issues related to self-esteem. This week, in Part 2, we will focus on specific strategies to help you address ambivalence in your relationship. These strategies will be framed as “antidotes” to each of the common factors outlined in Part 1. Please note: the term “antidote” is used here to illustrate that the following suggestions may be helpful for “counteracting”, or responding to, the common factors of relationship ambivalence, not to imply that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving relationship ambivalence, or that these are the only strategies available!

Go or Stay concept with three red dice on a white background.

Factor #1: Fear of Consequences

Antidotes: Practicing Courage & Staying Present

Whether it’s fear over your partner’s reaction to your concerns, fear of accepting your concerns as real and valid because of the internal upset this creates, or fear of dissolving the relationship altogether and being alone, if fear is the main factor keeping you stuck in ambivalence about your relationship, your antidotes include: practicing courage and staying present.

Although it may sound painfully simple (and come at the risk of a few eye-rolls from our readers…), when it comes to making change, courage is a necessary mindset. Practicing courage means that you’re open and willing to do something different, even if it’s something small (change is change, after all!). Operating from a place of courage within yourself means that you’re developing awareness of the default behaviours that keep you stuck (e.g., shutting down after conflict, getting defensive, staying quiet about your concerns, etc.) and then, rather than allowing your default reaction to take over, thoughtfully and courageously choosing to do something different.

Where staying present is concerned, so often we hear our clients speaking in “what if’s” when working through their experience of relationship ambivalence which, by its nature, takes them out of the present moment and into some imagined future (or past). Because we’re so invested in our relationship, and we feel a lack of control over the outcome of our situation, it can be easy to become caught up in “what if’s”, such as: “What if talking about it makes things worse?”, “What if we can’t resolve this concern?”, and perhaps most common, “What if I try and work things out and nothing gets better?” The thing about “what if’s” is that they ultimately focus on trying to problem solve the future (or time travel to the past). The future is unsolvable because it hasn’t happened yet, and the past is unsolvable because it has come and gone; yet the mind feels the discomfort of inner conflict and tries in vain to solve the unsolvable anyways. This is part of what keeps people stuck in ambivalence because if you tell yourself you have to solve a problem before moving forward, and that problem is unsolvable, then presto – you’re stuck! The only way to make change – the only way out of “stuckness” – is by focusing on what’s happening right now. It’s healthy to process unresolved experiences from the past, just as it’s healthy to be mindful of the potential consequences of your behaviour as they may unfold, but wishing the past had been different or trying to control the outcome of something that hasn’t happened are impossible and are part of what keeps you stuck.

Factor #2: Split between Values

Antidote: Practicing Curiosity & “The Death Bed Question”

It can be hard to imagine how to move forward if you find yourself facing a split between two strong values in your relationship, particularly if your understanding of one (or both) values isn’t yet fully formed. Practicing curiosity is all about meaning-making where your values are concerned; the goal is to help you better understand your values so that you are well-positioned for decision-making. The names that we give to the values we hold – honesty, conscious parenting, engagement and connection, self-growth, etc. – are simply words used to describe a set of characteristics or a way of being that is precious to us. While the words we assign to our values can be meaningful in and of themselves, to fully understand our values and the importance they have in our lives, we have to dig deeper, past our descriptors; we have to adopt a curious attitude in order to understand not only what is important to us, but also why. If we use the value of parenting that was discussed in Part 1 as an example, practicing curiosity would mean asking yourself questions like: what is it about “parenting” that holds the most meaning for me? Is it the aspect of nurturing another being? Teaching someone? Is it the desire to create something special and unique? You may also benefit from asking yourself the question, “Whose value is this really?” Without realizing it, many of us go through life living with a set of values and expectations that belong to other people. Our parents, extended family, friends, bosses, society, culture, etc. all give us ideas about how we “should” live. Most of the time, we don’t even realize how powerful these messages are until a process of reflection and examination takes place. The process of disentangling our authentic core values from the expectations and values of others is a challenging task. Some questions that we have found most helpful for this process are:

  • Has this always been a value of yours?
  • Who else in your life shares this value?
  • Who would be the most disappointed if you did not prioritize this value?
  • Are there times when this value is not so important?
  • How important is this value to you, on a scale of 1-10?
  • What will you be risking if you do not prioritize this value at this time?

Upon reflection, most people we meet with can acknowledge that some aspects of a particular value are more important than others, and they can begin to identify their true values from those of others. By becoming more specific about your values, you may be able to create more space for negotiation with your partner where there was once no breathing room, and new possibilities for resolving the split in values may begin to emerge. For example, if upon reflection you realize that parenting a child is not really what you value but, rather, it’s the aspect of creating something special with your partner that matters most to you, this becomes a very different conversation than one where you want children and your partner doesn’t. Resolving a split between values doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your partner come to share the exact same values in the exact same ways; rather it means that both of you can find a way to live out your values together, without either person feeling like they’ve had to repress or disown an important aspect of themselves. Most differences in values are resolvable. However, there are times when, after much curiosity, reflection, and conversation, people find themselves facing a difference in values with their partner that cannot be bridged. If you’re facing an unresolvable split, this is when the “death bed question” comes in: that is, if you imagine yourself on your death bed looking back on your life, would you regret that a value (or set of values) was never realized? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s time to get really honest with yourself about whether avoiding the temporary pain of relationship dissolution is worth the life-long pain of living inauthentically. You deserve to live your best life – a life that’s in line with your values – and so does your partner. Give yourself your best chance at your best life.

Factor #3: Issues related to Self-Esteem

Antidotes: Repairing your Relationship with Yourself & Practicing Self-care

Part 1 talks about how, when needs go unvoiced (and, as a result, go unmet!) for long periods of time, this inevitably creates a sense of inner conflict which, in turn, can erode a relationship. It can be hard to understand how shifting your focus from your partner to yourself could be useful when it feels like your relationship is in trouble, but sometimes paying attention to and investigating your relationship with yourself is a necessary step towards managing relationship distress.

A healthy relationship requires that each partner is attuned to their own needs, and values themselves enough to share those needs with their partner in a direct and specific way. For example, in our work with clients, women especially seem to struggle with being specific and direct with their partner about what their needs are and how they want their partners to respond. Most commonly there is an idea that their partners should “just know what they need to do” – that asking for a need to be met somehow makes the gesture of meeting the need less meaningful – or the idea that their partner’s ability to just “know” what they need is related to how valuable they must be to them. These ideas can lead women to feel uncomfortable and disempowered when it comes to having their needs met in a relationship, resulting in tension and a fear that their partner doesn’t “know” them or “care enough” to meet their needs. Although it may seem surprising, this experience of not having your needs met in this case is less about your partner and more about your relationship with yourself. When you remain detached from what you need, or rely on your partner to “just know”, you are sending a message to yourself that you are not entitled or powerful enough to get yourself what you need. To love yourself enough to connect with your needs and validate their worthiness is the first step towards feeling better about yourself and your relationship.

Learning to love yourself and value your needs is essential for developing a healthy self-esteem. Self-love develops when you regularly turn towards yourself with kindness and engage in self-care practices. Since healthy relationships are made up of healthy individuals, caring for yourself and focusing on maintaining a positive self-esteem is an important part of caring for your relationships too! Check out our previous post on self-care for more information on how to enhance your sense of self and bolster self-esteem.

If you’re experiencing relationship ambivalence, we hope that these suggestions will be helpful to you in moving out of “stuckness” and into the sense of freedom and groundedness that come from knowing where you stand.

Grow Courageously!

-Melissa & Corinne

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Healing a Broken Heart: Part 2

Written By: Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist

In Part 1 of this post, which you can check out here, I wrote about three ways to help yourself heal a broken heart.  Now, here are four more ways to move through heartbreak with love and compassion:

1. Learn to keep your heart open. When we’re broken-hearted, in the grips of deep sadness, loss, and fear, we may choose to close our hearts as a way of protecting ourselves and re-establishing a sense of security in our lives.   When we’re hurting, closing our hearts can seem like a great idea in order to keep ourselves safe!  However, the safety we feel by closing our hearts is a false sense of safety; closing our hearts is about avoiding our pain, rather than embracing our pain with gentleness and letting it pass through us.  If you’ve read Part 1, you know that avoidance doesn’t actually lessen or heal our pain but, rather, has a tendency to prolong and intensify it.  Closing our hearts moves us farther away from our true selves and from true healing.  Love is healing and, in order to feel love for ourselves and receive love and support from those around us during this difficult time, our hearts must be open.  How do we keep our hearts open?  By paying attention to when we feel love, energy, and engagement with our experiences, as well as noticing when we don’t, and choosing to do more of the former no matter what the situation.  Michael A. Singer, in his book “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself”, writes about this beautifully:

“Through meditation, through awareness and willful efforts, you can learn to keep your centers open.  You do this by just relaxing and releasing.  You do this by not buying into the concept that there is anything worth closing over.  Remember, if you love life, nothing is worth closing over.  Nothing, ever, is worth closing your heart over.”

2. Find meaning in your emotions to connect with yourself on a deeper level. Our emotions are important messengers, and they have a lot of teach us about ourselves and our values.  When we feel happy and uplifted, it may be easier to receive the messages that our emotions have to offer because it’s easier to stay open when we feel good.  But there is a lot to learn from our pain if we can stay open and be conscious to it.  If the loss you experienced didn’t matter to your life or bump up against your beliefs and values in some meaningful way, your heart wouldn’t be broken in the first place.  So, as you practice keeping your heart open when pain is present, you can also ask yourself questions like: what does this sadness that I feel so deeply suggest about what’s important to me?  What can this fear teach me about my opportunities for growth right now?  This is different from telling yourself that “everything happens for a reason”.  It’s more about accepting that, even in the greatest tragedies, there are opportunities for profound personal, spiritual, and relational evolution.  When you learn to embrace your pain, you can also begin to embrace its lessons.

3. Begin to move towards forgiveness. When we experience a broken heart, our sense of internal power may be shaken up.  We may feel wronged by someone or something, and we may feel like our personal power has been violated.  It’s important to stay awakened to our inner power, and one way to do this is to move towards forgiveness.  Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things to do, and it can also be one of the most liberating for our hearts.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we approve of a person’s hurtful actions or that we like how a situation unfolded which caused us harm.  It also doesn’t mean that we forget what happened.  Instead, forgiveness is about acknowledging the wrong-doing and then choosing to let go of the hold that it has on us, in exchange for our freedom and inner power.  If we aren’t ready to forgive fully (and it’s okay if we aren’t) we might wish to start by simply setting the intention to forgive.  Forgiveness is a choice that we must make, often times not just once but again and again, to respond to the person or experience and say, “I’m hurt and my heart is broken, and I’m choosing to live my life fully and freely anyway.”  Since forgiveness is such a complex topic in and of itself, we’ll be writing a full blog post about it over the coming weeks.

4. Build your life!  When your heart has been broken, after you’ve done some initial processing and reflection, this is a time to work on building up your life and creating a life you love even more than you did before.  What have you wanted to do for yourself that you haven’t had/made time for?  What new activities have you wanted to try?  What have you wanted to learn more about?   How can you live in a way that honours the loss you’ve experienced and the lessons you’ve learned from it?  What makes you feel your best, most fulfilled, and most alive?  This is the time to do more of that!

Heartbreak is never easy.  At the same time, it’s important to remember that heartbreak is a human experience and, if we approach it with love and compassion, we can not only move through it, we can also grow from it to become more fully ourselves.

Wishing you wellness, always ❤

-Corinne


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How to Practice Self-Love When You Don’t Know Where To Start

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

“Love yourself first and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself in order to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball

“Self-love” and “self-care” are terms you’ve likely heard before, especially if you’ve read some of our previous posts! They’re terms that get used a lot in the personal development space, and for good reason – loving yourself, and developing practices of caring for yourself, are the foundation for every aspect of your health and well-being: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and relational. In other words, self-love and self-care are pretty darn important!

When speaking with my clients about self-love/self-care, I often hear them say, “Corinne, I understand the importance of self-love and I want to love myself…but, how do I do it? Where do I start?” These are great questions! If self-love is unfamiliar, how do you know what it looks like and where do you begin? First, it’s important to understand that self-love is more than a feeling you have about yourself; it’s an intentional choice to act lovingly towards yourself, as well as the desire to strive for overall well-being. From this understanding of self-love, you can begin to put specific practices into place to love yourself wholeheartedly.  Below are some tips to help guide you in your journey towards greater self-love:

1. Develop your self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to turn inwards and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Loving yourself involves knowing what’s happening for you on the inside, so that you can identify (and voice) your needs and, ultimately, make changes that reflect your worth. Ask yourself:

  • Do I notice any patterns in my thoughts? Do the same thoughts come up again and again across situations (e.g., “I’m a failure”, “I’m not good enough”, etc.)?
  • Are certain thoughts connected to particular feelings? For example, do I tend to feel unmotivated each time I think, “I’m a failure”?
  • How do my thoughts and feelings impact my actions? For example, when I think “I’m a failure” and start to feel unmotivated, what do I typically do? How do I typically behave/respond?

A useful tool for developing self-awareness around your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours is called a “thought record”, which is used in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Try it yourself: The website, Self-help.tools, contains thought record worksheets for your use, as well as instructions for completing your thought record.

2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is another way to develop your self-awareness, as it involves paying conscious attention to the present moment. More so (and this bit is important!), mindfulness invites you to pay attention without judgment.  So, you aren’t judging whether your thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. are good or bad – you’re just noticing them, with interest and curiosity. Mindfulness, in itself, is an act of self-care with countless benefits for your mental and physical well-being, including: reduced anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic pain, as well as improvements to memory, concentration, creativity, immune system, and overall mood and quality of life! By paying conscious attention to your present experience, you give yourself the opportunity to notice what feels good to you and what doesn’t. This is important for developing self-love since loving yourself involves making decisions to take care of yourself, and to do what is good for you. Note: doing what is good for you doesn’t mean being oblivious to the needs of others! See our previous post, “The Importance of Loving Yourself First” for more on this.

3. Create your self-care “non-negotiables”: Create a list of activities/practices that you know help you feel good and/or give you a mood-boost. For example, things like getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, setting standing dates with friends/family, having an hour each night to read or watch Netflix, getting out in nature once a day, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, having an hour each week to work on creative projects, etc. You get the idea! Now, go through the list and pick your top three non-negotiables. These are the activities that, no matter what – no matter how busy life gets, no matter how exhausted you feel, no matter how often your thoughts tell you you’re not worthy – you commit to doing for yourself regularly. Everything else on the list is a bonus to be enjoyed when you have less on your plate. Self-care is self-love in action!

4. Set clear mental and emotional boundaries: Boundaries are important for self-love because they encourage respect – respect from yourself, and from others. In relationships, healthy boundaries help you to identify what you’re responsible for and what you’re not; they make your limits clear. Healthy boundaries can help you to stay present in conflict without becoming defensive or escalated. Healthy boundaries can prevent you from taking responsibility for the problems of others. When you understand your own thoughts, values, and emotions, boundaries become easier to set, which is one of the reasons why developing self-awareness is so important! Boundaries aren’t about being mean to other people – they’re not meant to be punitive. Rather, healthy boundaries are essential for taking care of yourself so that you can be at your best; if you’re not at your best, your relationships won’t be either. Setting clear boundaries can be as simple as saying “yes” or “no” when you mean it. This doesn’t mean you’ll never do anything you don’t want to ever again – that’s just a part of life! Instead, it means being more intentional in your decisions about what you do and why you’re doing it; setting boundaries is about making choices purposefully, rather than feeling like you never had a choice at all. Try it yourself: Over the next week, every time you’re invited to do something – take on a new project, go to a party on Saturday night, accept responsibility for an outcome – practice saying “yes” and “no” to the invitation. Keep track of the reasons for your decision, as well as the way you felt about your decision afterwards. Feel free to use this boundaries setting worksheet to help you!

Love yourself fiercely; your life depends on it ❤



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What To Do When Sh*t Hits the Fan: 3 Tips for Coping With Messy, Stressy Situations

Post written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Sh*t happens and, when it does, it’s helpful to have some strategies in place to deal with the mess! Below are three tips to help you cope the next time your circumstances seem less than crap-tastic.

  • Feel your Feelings: before you clean up the mess, let yourself get knee-deep in sh*t (you’re welcome for the imagery on that one)!  In other words, allow yourself to feel your feelings and acknowledge the emotions that are coming up for you.  Whether it’s frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment…give yourself permission to be fully in that place of emotion.  Cry if you need to.  Take a drive and scream it out (you might want to make sure you’ve got the windows rolled up!).  Meditate.  Say the words out loud, “I feel [fill in the blank]”.  Unacknowledged feelings are more likely to get stuck in our bodies and manifest as physical pain and tension; simply feeling your feelings (without trying to change them) can be enough to release them from your body, helping to mitigate both physical and psychological aches.  As well, acknowledging your emotions can help you to better identify your needs, which can be valuable in any post-“poop happens” planning that you do moving forward.
  • Laugh: The saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” was created for a reason because it truly is good for your mind, body, and relationships.  In the midst of stress, laughter can help you to relax, minimize distress, and point a light-hearted lens at the situation to open up new perspectives.  The next time crap happens, look for the humour in the situation.  Don’t take yourself too seriously all the time (self-disclosure moment: this blog post is totally my way of not taking myself too seriously right now!).  Ask yourself, “Is this really that important? Will it still matter a year from now?”  By developing an appreciation for life’s follies, you create a buffer that helps to keep you from being completely swept away in the sh*tstorm!  For more information on the health benefits of laughter, click here.
  • Practice Gratitude: Gratitude works– it’s a science!  In particular, research has shown that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis demonstrate higher levels of mental alertness and determination, experience greater levels of happiness and optimism, report fewer physical symptoms, and fare better in the face of daily stressors.  In other words, a little gratitude each day helps keep the doctor away.  And the practice of gratitude (both in the moment and proactively) helps to make sh*tty situations more bearable by widening your perspective, developing your resilience, and helping you keep a positive outlook.

I hope you enjoyed this playful, poop-filled post! How do you cope when life sneaks up on you and makes a big ol’ mess? Let us know in the comments below!


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The Importance of Loving Yourself First

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

You are the most important person in your life.  Yes, YOU!  It’s true!  In our experience, many people are uncomfortable with this idea, at least at first.  Women, in particular, seem most uncomfortable with this idea initially because we are taught by our society to act as caregivers, many times putting our own needs on the back burner in order to do so.  Being the most important person in your life is often confused with being selfish and, as such, the idea can be off-putting because people typically don’t want to be seen as selfish!

However, we encourage you to consider the following: if you aren’t the most important person in your life, you’re actually doing a disservice not only to yourself, but to your relationships as well.  When you choose not to realize your own importance, you are actually damaging, rather than enhancing, your relationships.  How can that be?  Well, when you embrace your place as #1 in your own life and you begin to ensure that your needs are being met regularly, you become better equipped to act in ways that are loving towards others. 

Putting yourself first doesn’t mean that you become apathetic to the needs of others, and it doesn’t mean that you live only for yourself.  It also doesn’t mean that your needs come first all the time.  Instead, it means that you recognize your needs as a priority and you choose to put the needs of others ahead of your own in specific situations, as appropriate.  The key here is choice.  When you aren’t the most important person in your life, others’ needs may take top priority by default, time and time again, until you eventually burn out and are no longer able to care for anyone.  This is why we say it’s a disservice to yourself and your relationships to deny your own importance.  Similar to the way that many financial advisors will tell you to pay yourself first in order to achieve financial success, we suggest that you love yourself first in order to experience success in your closest relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself.

Just like you can’t appreciate happiness without also experiencing sadness, and just like you can’t perceive light without also seeing the dark, the most sincere love of others is experienced only when you have the most profound love of self.  In this way, loving yourself is not at odds with loving others but, instead, is the foundation for loving others in the best way possible.  Becoming the most important person in your life is not selfish; it’s a necessity for loving those who mean the most to you.  In her book, “The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome”, Dr. Harriet Braiker called this type of self-love “enlightened self-interest”, stating that “[what enlightened self-interest means is] that you will take good care of yourself, even putting your needs first at times, while simultaneously considering the needs and welfare of others…Enlightened self-interest, unlike selfishness, precludes making others suffer at your expense.”

There are many ways that you can love yourself first.  For example, you can practice setting boundaries with others (it’s okay to say “no” sometimes!); you can make time for what you love, such as reading a good book, doing a creative project, taking a bubble bath before bed, taking yoga classes, going for a walk after dinner, etc.; you can learn to forgive yourself for mistakes that you have made in the past; etc.  Whatever it looks like for you, we invite you to “embrace your place as #1” in order to bring positive change to your inner self and your relationships with those around you!


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The “Holiday Blues”: An Invitation to Practice Generosity…with Yourself!

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Ready or not, the holiday season is here again! Shopping malls are decked out in tinsel and lights, and radio stations have begun to play round-the-clock festive tunes.  There’s no denying it: the season of good tidings is officially upon us.

For many people, this truly is “the most wonderful time the year” – the holidays are a time of togetherness, celebration, and generosity of spirit.  It’s a time for reconnection and lightness of heart.  Yet, in the midst of all the holiday spectacle, many folks will find themselves experiencing a little less than “good cheer”.  In particular, research has shown that an increase in depressive symptoms is not uncommon around this time of year.  Often dubbed “the holiday blues”, such depressive symptoms may include (but are not limited to): increased feelings of sadness, loneliness, grief, fatigue, stress, and suicidal thoughts.  These symptoms may emerge as the result of any number of stressors.  For example, stressors can include:

  • Financial pressures related to gift buying
  • Expectations about the “perfect” family get-together
  • Increased family conflict and/or distressing dynamics amongst family members (or perhaps the absence of family members and loved ones, altogether)
  • The “hustle and bustle” of time constraints and a generally hectic pace (including traveling on a limited schedule, navigating crowded shopping malls, etc.)

There are a number of tips available online for coping with the holiday blues.  For example, the Mayo Clinic offers 10 suggestions for minimizing holiday stress, including:  making a budget in advance, acknowledging your feelings, setting boundaries, and reaching out for help as necessary.  You can read the rest of their tips here: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/MH00030

At New Roots Therapy, we hope to offer one simple message to those of you experiencing the holiday blues: in this season of generosity and kindness, don’t forget to be generous and kind to yourself as well!  A gift of permission to take it easy on yourself might be just the thing you need to reconnect with the joys of the holiday season.  “Taking it easy” might look differently for different people.  For example, it could mean limiting your spending, or deciding not to travel this year, or asking for extra help with food preparation.  Whatever it means to you, we’re hopeful that you’ll take the time to reflect upon your own needs during the holidays, and give yourself permission to practice generosity with yourself.

If you notice that your depressive symptoms are lasting longer than the holiday season (i.e., longer than two weeks), or you have concerns that you might be experiencing clinical depression, you may wish to consider speaking with your family doctor or mental health care provider.

If you wish to speak with one of our therapists, please contact our office at:

info@newrootstherapy.com

905-665-8150