Craig Toonder: Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFC#42605
About a year after I moved to Oakland from Chicago I was talking to a friend who mentioned she was interested in studying somatic psychotherapy at John F. Kennedy University. Seeing my confusion, having never heard of somatic psychotherapy before, she explained how the mind and the body are interconnected and that psychotherapy can be more powerful when one works with thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations all at the same time.
Her explanation stunned me. I had always loved biology and psychology, but neither fully captivated my interest nor drove me to pursue a career in either field. The combination though… for reasons I can’t explain, unlocked a sense of purpose in my life. I felt a wave of energy surge through my body and I knew, without a shadow of doubt, that this is what I was going to do with my life.
So, I enrolled in the program and two months later started my course work. JFK University was like heaven for me. Along with the state academic curriculum, Kennedy emphasized that being a good therapist starts with deeply knowing yourself. It taught me the power of experiential learning, what it means to be present, the courage of vulnerability, and the importance of being embodied.
After graduate school I had an insatiable hunger to learn more. I studied Formative Therapy, the Hakomi Method, Recreation of the Self, Somatic Experiencing, and Psycho-Physical Therapy. All of which emphasize how to work with the body to deepen into the experience of one’s wounding or trauma, and heal it from the bottom up.
Then in 2008, I decided to specialize in couples therapy. I was fascinated by interpersonal dynamics at the time and studied many of the main modalities: Gottman Method, EFT, PACT, Collaborative Couple Therapy, AEDP for Couples, and I dabbled in a few more. All of these modalities emphasized that communication goes beyond words and rules. They each, in their own ways, deepened my appreciation for what it means to be present and connected with others. They taught me how important compassion, curiosity, and understanding are in relationship, and how easily they can be lost under the weight of fear, despondence, and frustration. And, on a deeper level, couples therapy taught me that “being human” is inseparable from “being connected”.
After focusing on couples therapy trainings for about a decade, I returned to studying the mind-body connection. Insights for the field of neurobiology have expanded the focus of psychotherapy to better understand and work with the neuro-physiological aspect of the mind. I studied AEDP, Brainspotting, Regulation of Early Attachment Trauma, Healing Shame, and IFS. Studying these modalities I became more and more enamored by how powerful interpersonal presence, compassion, and working with the innate capacity to self-heal can be.
As my attention was shifting back towards individual work, I was introduced to the power of working with psychedelics assisted psychotherapy. Personally, while everything else I had studied to that point had created an amazing 25 years of growth as well as personal and spiritual development, I still held some wounds that were too deeply buried and were thus hard to access in therapy. Psychedelics assisted psychotherapy introduced me to a whole new level of working with primary (non-verbal) consciousness. Experiencing the results first hand, I realized that this would be the next phase of my journey as a therapist.