New Roots Therapy Blog

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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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Healing a Broken Heart: Part 1

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

When we think about heartbreak, we tend to think about the loss of a romantic relationship.  However, heartbreak isn’t just about the end of romantic love.  Any time we experience the loss of something meaningful in our lives – the loss of a friendship, a beloved pet, a dream we’ve carried for ourselves, etc. – we may find ourselves feeling heartbroken. When we’re heartbroken, we tend to feel exposed; vulnerable and uncertain.  Sometimes, our whole lives feel broken open.  We may feel deeply sad and scared and, because we tend to build our identities around our relationships as well as what we do (e.g., for work), heartbreak can rock our sense of self and lead us to feel unsure about our future.  Whatever the cause of your heartbreak, there are some things you can do to help yourself move through the process, with love and compassion.  Below are the first three tips in this two-part blog post on healing a broken heart:

1. First and foremost, give yourself permission to live “broken open” for a while.  When we’re feeling heartbroken, our first reaction is often to resist the pain that we’re experiencing because it can feel desperately uncomfortable.  We want to feel safe and secure and firmly planted in our lives, so we resist feelings like sadness, fear, and uncertainty that make us feel unsettled.  Furthermore, we live in a society that teaches us to stay away from “negative” feelings and move on quickly!  But, as the saying goes, “What we resist, persists.”  In other words, the more we resist our own heartbreak, the more likely it is that we intensify and prolong the emotional pain.  Over time, emotional pain may start to manifest in our bodies and become physical pain.  And as we’re walking through the world with this unprocessed emotional (and possibly now, physical) pain, it’s more likely that new experiences will trigger what we’ve been carrying around inside of us that was never processed from the past, so that our present experience becomes further confused and intensified.  And now, with more intensity and a lack of clarity, our present experience becomes even more challenging to work through, which may lead to more resistance…and on and on we go in a vicious emotional cycle.  Giving ourselves space and permission to feel our feelings, sit in our pain, and just let it be is a really important part of healing our heartbreak and living emotionally healthy lives.

2. Another important part of healing a broken heart is connecting with people you trust who can witness your pain.  These are people who can allow you to feel however you feel and who won’t rush you through the process.  We all know people who are uncomfortable with their own feelings, as well as with other people expressing their feelings, so when they see you feeling sad or scared they say things like, “Don’t be sad, don’t cry!  You’ve got to be strong and move on!” They want to rush the process, which isn’t necessarily coming from a bad place – it’s most likely coming from a place of caring and wanting to comfort their loved one – you! – and keep you from hurting.  It’s not easy to see your loved ones in pain.  As well, it’s likely that they’ve been taught to resist unpleasant emotions themselves, as so many of us are.  Finding people who are willing and able to just let our feelings be and sit there with us and say, “I see that you’re hurting and that’s okay.  Take the time you need, I’m here for you”, is incredibly valuable and can be a powerful part of the healing process.  If we don’t have anyone in our personal lives who can be a witness to our experience in this way, it can be really helpful to connect with a professional – a therapist, a mentor, a spiritual guide – or a well-founded on-line support group.

3. In addition to connecting with trusted others, practicing self-care matters greatly for healing a broken heart.  Self-care is essential for our day-to-day mental and emotional well-being, and it’s something that so many people struggle with, which is why we keep coming back to it here on our blog!  The ways that we can practice self-care are varied and unique, but one way we can all practice self-care is by paying attention to ourselves and really tapping into our needs in the moment.  Ask yourself on a daily basis: what is it that I need right now?  Sit in silence until the answer comes to you, and trust and honour the answer.  The answer that is coming from your true self will be a loving answer.  So, if the first thing you hear when you ask the question is, “What you need is to get a life, you loser!”, that’s not the truth of what you need!  That’s your ego mind getting in the way.  Notice what your ego mind says, but then let it go and continue to wait in silence until the truth comes to you.  The greatest gift of love we can give to ourselves and others is the gift of our full, undivided attention.  Paying attention to what you need will likely reveal specific self-care steps that you can take, such as taking a nap, or scheduling a mental health day, or planning a visit with a good friend, etc. In order to figure out what you need, you have to pay attention – slowly, quietly, and intentionally.

On October 14th, in Part 2 of this blog post, I’ll be providing you with four more ways to heal a broken heart.

Until then, take good care of yourselves – wishing you wellness, always ❤


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Welcome, Fall: 3 Tips to Make the Most of the New Season

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

After 3 months off, we’re back from our summer blogging hiatus – how appropriate that we start a new season of blog posts on the first day of Fall!  🙂

And since it’s the first day of Fall, I decided to write this post on three ways to make the most of the change in season.  Hope you enjoy!

1. Get Outside: Being in nature has countless benefits for our mental and emotional wellbeing!  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that at the first sight of leaves on the ground, we cocoon ourselves indoors and disappear until Spring.  Fall is a beautiful time of year – the air, although cooler, is crisp and refreshing; the days, although shorter, light up with breathtaking pops of golden yellow, burnt orange, and deep red all around.  Being in nature is a calming, healing, coming-back-to-ourselves experience, so get outside and enjoy this time! Go for a walk, watch the leaves with curiosity and awe as they change colour and fall from their branches, fill up your lungs with the fresh Fall air.  When we connect with nature, we connect with our highest selves.  Soak in all the benefits that Mother Earth provides.

2. Look to Nature for Guidance:  When we’re in a transition between seasons, it’s a great time to notice the lessons that nature has to offer us.  One of the lessons that nature teaches us is that nothing is permanent.  Life is always changing and looking to nature to help us remember that can be very grounding, particularly when we find it difficult to accept change and find ourselves trying to control situations to keep change from happening (which often results in distress).  Life is in a constant state of flow, and it’s really important that we stay open to the flow of life in order to live as our highest selves.  Distressing times can invite us to shut down and resist the flow of life but remember that, just as nature shows us, everything will pass through you if you allow it to.  With every ending is a new beginning.  So, be fully engaged in your experience – whether it brings a smile to your face, or breaks your heart – because no moment lasts forever.  Another lesson that nature teaches us at this time of year, as the leaves fall from the trees, is that there is beauty in letting go.   Nature has so much to show us about ourselves and how to live our best lives, if we can just look around and be mindful of her lessons.

3. Revisit Your Goals:  As we move into the final months of the year, this is a great opportunity to re-assess your personal vision and goals.  With any change of season, it’s a natural time to take pause, reflect, and check in with ourselves to see how we’re living our lives.  Are we living in line with our hopes and values? Are we living in such a way that we’re moving closer towards our personal vision?  Back in January, you may or may not have decided on some new year’s resolutions; the beginning of Fall is a great time to assess whether or not there are still some resolutions you want to work towards.  It’s also a great time to celebrate and honour any changes that have happened throughout the year up to this point!

Wishing you wellness, always ❤

 


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The “C” Word: Understanding and De-escalating Conflict in your Relationships

Post written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Relationship Therapist

According to Webster’s dictionary, there are three definitions of conflict:

1. Fight, Battle, War (an armed conflict)

2. (a) Competitive or opposing action of incompatibilities: Antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons)

(b) Mental Struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands

3. The opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction

I’ve found throughout my life and my experience as a therapist that “conflict” is often viewed as an uncomfortable, unnecessary, and damaging thing.  A characterization that makes sense if you consider the first definition of conflict listed above.  And when I discuss my client’s experience of conflict with them, they often describe it in a way that is in line with the first definition.  Each person comes to “battle”, “armed” with a tonne of psychological artillery that is sure to win the overall fight.  What a terrifying prospect!

It’s not like I don’t identify with this perception of conflict, too.  However, over the course of my life, my relationship with conflict has shifted. At first, it began as a terrifying possibility – when I thought someone was mad or upset with me – rendering me passive and paralyzed in the relationship. Then it moved into a protest phase where I spent considerable time and effort trying to control the people and elements involved in order to avoid conflict at any cost. Finally, it moved into a place where I could begin to see conflict as an opportunity for growth and empowerment, rather than letting it bulldoze me or actively trying to stop or avoid it.

Ultimately, conflict – despite its bad rap – is an unavoidable, natural, and (wait for it) healthy part of close relationships. Over time, relationships transition and require a renegotiation of needs and hopes in order for the relationship to evolve and thrive, which is much more representative of the second definition of conflict.  What it comes down to is understanding the distinction between generative conflict and degenerative conflict.

Generative conflict is a process where the participants involved have an awareness for, and acceptance of, the core emotions they’re experiencing, as well as the ability to clearly and respectfully communicate those feelings to the other(s) involved. The focus isn’t on squashing your feelings or denying them – it’s about responding to your emotions consciously and with intention vs. reacting to them automatically.  Generative conflict also requires flexible thinking and an openness to hear the emotional experiences of the other, which means holding multiple perspectives simultaneously (e.g., yours and the other). The desire for mutual understanding and resolution, as well as the appreciation of complex feelings and perspectives, underlies this type of conflict.

Degenerative conflict, by contrast, is a process where understanding, awareness, and flexibility are undermined by the desire for one or both members to control the argument.  In this way, people are either mutually interested or invited into a power struggle to the psychological death!  The goal of mutual understanding and appreciation for the outcome of the conflict is obscured by the desire to “win the fight”.  This can look like one person “emotionally attacking” while the other “defends” their position, or it can look like both/all parties involved mutually attacking one another with insults, accusations, judgements, sarcasm, and harmful criticisms.  Degenerative conflict not only eliminates the possibility of evolving the relationship into something healthier, it also erodes trust, facilitates emotional injury, damages the emotional bond, and sets the stage for future degenerative conflict and tension.

Everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect, openness, and curiosity, even during times when anger is present. Although it can be difficult at times, we all have a responsibility to the people we’re in relationships with to take care of each other, and ourselves, even in the face of anger. And if anger gets the better of you – and sometimes it will – then the ability to own it and take responsibility for your own emotional reaction is imperative for conflict to remain generative. Making mistakes in an argument from time to time (e.g., criticizing, attacking, etc.) does not create degenerative conflict in and of itself.  Rather, it’s the lack of responsibility taken for the mistakes over time that will distinguish generative from degenerative conflict.

Below are some tips for staying generative during conflict:

  • Awareness: practice awareness of your feelings and be clear and specific about what is causing the tension or distress before engaging someone in a conversation about it. It’s also important to practice awareness of your emotions during the conflict. Pay attention to your feelings as things come up in the conversation. If you feel like you’re getting too heated, take a break to cool down until you feel like you’re able to return to a more generative conversation.
  • Self-care: If you’re feeling really angry with someone, wait to talk to them until you feel like you can be more flexible and open to what the other has to say; respond to your anger first, don’t react to it!
  • Decline the invitation to engage: If someone comes at you with a complaint and they’re acting hostile, aggressive, attacking, critical, or disrespectful, respectfully decline the invitation to engage with them until they feel more able to be generative. This can be done with kindness and compassion.  For example: “I’m feeling attacked, I can see you’re angry but it’s hard for me to have a conversation with you when I’m feeling attacked”. There will be times when you won’t be able to get that sentence out because the other person might be so heated that they will talk over top of you. In this case, just remove yourself from the situation and try to explain later why you had to go. Trying to discuss anything with anyone who is so worked up that they’re acting hostile, is like talking to someone who is intoxicated- you will not get anywhere productive.

When I reflect on the times that I’ve felt most anxious about bringing up a concern with someone or discussing tensions, it was when I believed that degenerative conflict would take place. Ultimately, you cannot control how others will respond when you raise concerns but you can decline the invitation to engage in ways that you know will be harmful to you and the relationship. In fact, showing people that you will not engage in degenerative conflict will not only help you feel empowered over which kinds of tension you allow in your life, it’s also likely to lessen the fears and anxieties that others have when they need to approach you about something awkward or tense.

Is the distinction between generative and degenerative conflict helpful to you?  Let us know how in the comments below!


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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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Avoiding the Green-Eyed Monster of Jealousy: How To Build Trust and Connection in Lesbian Relationships

Post Written By: Lisa Shouldice, Individual, Couple, and Family Psychotherapist

As a lesbian, as well as a Psychotherapist who works with both heterosexual and LGBT couples, I have found that issues of jealousy and possessiveness are frequent concerns reported by lesbian couples who come to see me for relationship counselling. Although, no two relationships – lesbian or otherwise! – are the same, for many reasons, both societal and physiological, lesbian couples often share with me their experience of feeling very deeply connected, very quickly. And while this deep bonding can lead to an intense, beautiful “honeymoon period”, these intense dynamics can also lead to an increased fear of loss and jealousy that, many lesbian couples say, plagues their relationships resulting in escalating fights and the erosion of healthy intimacy. This loss of intimacy can be especially difficult in lesbian relationships where partners tend not only to be lovers, but also friends who belong to the same social circles, which often means more time spent together.

Based on my experiences helping couples maintain healthy intimacy in their relationships, the following are some points to help lesbian couples, in particular, work through issues of jealousy and possessiveness (note: couples of all types may also find these points helpful for promoting emotional connectedness, so please take note if any tips resonate for you!):

  • Stay Connected Throughout the Day. Text, chat on lunch hours, and generally just touch base on what you’re up to.  It can help you feel connected and sends the message that you’re open, available, and have nothing to hide.
  • Be Open.  When it comes to communication, there is no reason to keep secrets and be vague.  While it may seem this mysteriousness is sexy, it does not lead to long-term health as a couple.
  • Show You Are Thinking About Her.  Bring a coffee home for her.  Forward a joke you saw on social media you think would make her laugh.  Small gestures to show her she’s on your mind can go a long way in creating/maintaining connection.
  • Maintain Strong Boundaries in Your Friendships.  Sharing a bed with a female friend when you are straight may feel like sisterhood, but when you are gay it can result in insecurity for your partner.  Discuss boundaries with your partner and make sure you respect them.
  • Communicate About Individual Needs. As in the point above, decide together when flirting is fun and when it is over the line.  Respect this line.  Be willing to share your needs, and be open to hearing your partner’s.  Be curious and clarify when you do not understand.
  • Trust Her Judgment. If she tells you she feels a colleague is hitting on you and not just being friendly, consider it as possible. Do not write it off as her “insecurities” and ignore her. Decide together how best to approach the situation.
  • Validate Her Sexuality. Flirt with her.  Kiss her and be affectionate.  She has to feel sexy and know you are attracted to her.

If these ideas are incorporated into your role as a lesbian partner, I truly feel you will have healthier, happier relationships with the connections you desire.

Lisa Shouldice is a colleague of New Roots Therapy.  She works as an individual, couple, and family psychotherapist in Toronto.  She specializes in working within the LGBT and multi-cultural communities.  She also works with trauma and all other mental health issues.  For more information on Lisa’s therapy practice, please visit www.lisashouldice.com or contact her at 416-953-6880.


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What is Walk & Talk Therapy?

Walk & Talk therapy is a form of counselling which combines physical activity, the outdoors, and talk therapy. The benefits of Walk & Talk therapy can include:

  • Developing a stronger mind-body connection, which can help to increase self-awareness; a key element in the process of change
  • Improvements to physical health, which in turn support improvements to mental and emotional health, thus promoting a greater sense of well-being overall
  • Facilitating a positive therapeutic relationship
  • Creative thinking, which can help to encourage change when the therapeutic process is feeling “stuck”

Interested in giving Walk & Talk therapy a try?  Our relationship therapists offer Walk & Talk therapy between the months of May-September!