Max Lowen is a therapist who specializes in helping individuals who have suffered trauma. She has worked with both victims and perpetrators to reach resolve and healing. Max was raised internationally and grew up speaking three different languages. Now living and raising her own family in Ashland, Max utilizes her 30 years of experiences in the field of clinical psychology, her own healing experience, and influences from Buddhist, Shamanic and Transpersonal traditions to help those who most need it.
In today’s interview I speak with Max about her steadfast commitment and ability to maintain clarity and resolution for her clients amidst challenging cases. We explore her un-wavering ability to be compassionate yet firm with her clients. Max knows how to use a variety of healing modalities and help people change their patterns and negative coping strategies to reach wholeness and inner freedom.
Thank you Shields for the opportunity to introduce myself to the Ashland community.
To begin with, please tell us a little bit about your background. You had a very interesting upbringing that gave you a unique outlook on life.
Yes I would agree my background gives me a unique perspective, I was raised in several different countries due to my father’s job as a Foreign Service officer. I was born in the United States but moved to Chile when 9 months old. After Chile, I lived in Lesotho (S. Africa), The Dominican Republic, Argentina and high school in Rome, Italy. Both my parents also grew up all over the world; my paternal grandfather was also Foreign Service for the United States and my maternal grandfather Foreign Service for Italy. As a child, my mother spoke Italian with me, my father English, and they spoke Spanish together, hence I grew up tri-lingual. I came to the USA after graduating high school in 1982 to attend University and later graduate programs. My upbringing created in me an interest and openness to meeting people from other backgrounds, I am able to interact and get along with people from all walks of life. Because I did not grow up in any one culture, my perspective is one of understanding we are all diverse and yet one human race. I am both an American and a Global citizen.
You have always been a very relational person. Please talk more about this special quality you have.
In my career, I looked to forge relationships with other providers, as working together creates benefits for both professionals and clients. As director of the Batterers program for Arlington County, VA, I created liaisons with the Police and the Probation Departments that were part of arresting and supervising domestic violence offenders. No one in my position prior to me had done so. I met with probation officers weekly and kept them updated on progress with our common clients. I also gave talks for Probation and Police on domestic violence and my treatment protocols in group work to educate them on what I was doing. In turn they invited me to their meetings and ride-alongs with Police. We each were able to experience what the other did, and our collaboration made all our jobs easier and was very helpful to the clients who benefitted from coordinated care and supervision. I am particularly effective as a team member, and was given awards and recognition from past employers for my excellent communication and cooperative skills. When I was younger, one of my bosses told me I was like the spoke of a wheel; I was the place where people of different backgrounds came together. She said I treated the CEO and the janitor with the same kindness and respect. I was known for my ability to get along with anyone and bring others from different backgrounds together. As human beings we are a social species, and relationships are necessary for all of us. I once heard the term “other-selves” used to describe people around us, and I really like that word as it speaks to the fact we are all interdependent with each other, and on a higher level, are all one.
Max, starting out as a young professional you began to find yourself in many situations that you thought could be improved. You then found ways to communicate and improve these situations. Please tell us about this.
I do seem to have a tendency to speak up when I see a need. In my first position as a psychiatric technician for severely mentally ill clients in a psychiatric hospital, I changed hospital policy regarding psychoanalysis for the psychotic and schizophrenic clients I worked with. The hospital had a policy requiring clients to participate in psychoanalysis daily, and I observed my clients become agitated and delusional when their psychiatrist showed up for sessions. During a hospital wide meeting I wondered why these folks were forced to be in (and pay for) therapy when they were too ill to benefit, and in fact seemed to cause them distress. Psychotherapy requires the ability for insight and interpersonal connection, and my clients struggled to stay in reality and control their basic impulses. Later the director called me in, (my colleagues feared the director would fire me), but instead I was thanked and the policy was changed. Years later, while working for a non-profit with inner city clients who suffered trauma and addictions, I again changed agency policy, this time on housing for addicts. The policy was to evict those who used, which I argued was not helpful in their recovery, as being homeless would only increase the need to self-medicate with drugs. During my tenure working with incarcerated clients, I fought for their right to therapy as opposed to solely using medications. I was discouraged from helping these folks who had committed criminal acts, yet I pushed for their right to be healed from their own suffering. People become perpetrators because they have formerly been traumatized and victimized, and without healing can go on to repeat the patterns of abuse. One of my clients, a young man who had used drugs and killed someone in a car accident, went on to become a therapist himself when he was released. Everyone can change. When I see situations that are not correct, in any arena, I speak up. It is my belief we all should speak up when we see injustice or a need to do things in a better way, and we should lend a hand to our fellow humans if we are able. We are all here together on this planet, and if we look out for each other and work together we can make the world a better place for all.
You say that you have always effected great change wherever you were placed. How do you do this?
Well, I simply ask questions, point out problem areas, and then act to create change. I never understood the tendency to accept what people in positions of power demand if it is not integrous or good for humans/animals/environment. I have a passion for the uplifting of humanity, and if I notice something standing in the way, I address it. I have often found once I speak up, others join me and together we create change. I think this may be the quality of a leader, someone who leads by example and inspires others to be their best selves and cooperate in effecting change.
My specialty has been in working with severe and complex trauma, both survivors and perpetrators. I have worked with war veterans with PTSD, torture survivors, sexual abuse survivors and domestic violence. Having said that, it is my view that most of us suffer some degree of trauma due to the world we live in which is not healthy or human centered. The daily stressors of not having enough money, support or time erode our well-being. We have increasing problems in our environment, wars, economic uncertainty, division and violence. We live out of balance with each other and the natural world. This takes a toll on our mental health and our relationships. Hence I would say people are somewhere on a continuum with trauma, and all can benefit from healing. I am gifted in dealing with severe cases but also am passionate about helping all people regain health and balance in their lives.
Please talk about trauma and how it plays it out in our lives.
Trauma occurs when an experience is so terrifying, harmful and overwhelming that the psyche fragments. At the extreme this manifests as a shattering of the personality so great it results in multiple personalities, now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID is a spectrum, and it is my belief that most, if not all, of us have some degree of fragmentation internally. In Shamanism, they see this as the soul shattering and losing pieces of itself, and the healing as soul retrieval. One of the ways that being fragmented impacts our lives is we split into parts internally, each part holding some of the trauma. We could for example have inner child parts who got stuck due to trauma and failed to fully grow up. This in turn creates reactivity to external events or people who behave in a way that triggers that child part. We may be unaware we have different parts and later wonder why we lost control and behaved in ways we regret. We also find ourselves being inconsistent, for example making plans but later feeling like we would prefer to not engage, this because one part wants contact, another part is more in charge later and does not. Integration helps us to know all the inner parts we have and create a core adult internally that can parent the inner children. There is a big difference between acting out of choice and reacting involuntarily to a trigger. When we are unintegrated and do not know ourselves, we find relationships challenging as we are reacting instead of communicating. Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec healer, describes us as walking around with wounds all over our bodies, so if someone brushes up against us and touches a wound, we react in pain. Once those wounds are healed, nothing anybody else does or says will hurt, because we no longer have active wounds. If another person behaves badly towards us, and we have no wounds unhealed, we would simply see they are in pain and have compassion. We would set boundaries to protect ourselves without blaming or engaging in negative behaviors in return. We would be free to choose our response.
How do you bring about healing?
Healing necessitates our going inside and finding our traumatized parts. I teach people how to identify the different parts inside them by noticing what they tend to react to, by recognizing their thoughts, beliefs and emotions. We may see our emotions as random and uncontrollable, but they are an incredibly attuned guidance system, giving us valuable data if we stop and examine their sources. Simply by bringing awareness to what is happening when the feelings arise, we move away from being ruled by our emotions and instead become empowered by them.
Relationships tend to highlight areas that we need to work on, as our partners will mirror what we need to heal. Normally, adult relationship conflicts ensue and create pain because we are not taking responsibility for the unaddressed wounds inside us; we see it as the other hurting us. I often tell people that what they feel is 90% from the past and 10% the present. I have a series of steps we can take to begin to find and heal our inner fragmentation. Identifying we have been triggered is the first step. Then taking the time to breathe and connect with whatever inner part is in distress, and expressing the emotions. Our emotions are one of the greatest assets we have in creating our most fulfilled life—that is when we know how to use them. Most of us have been taught to see negative emotions as something to be avoided at all costs. We create all sorts of self-care practices and elaborate avoidance techniques to ward off feeling “bad” in any way about anything. Instead, I encourage people to express their feelings by crying, screaming, raging and saying whatever comes up. I call this doing “theater”, acting out what is trying to emerge, releasing the emotions responsibly, and reprogramming our distorted beliefs.
The important part of this exercise is to take responsibility for our emotions, so I teach people to express them in a healthy manner, rather throw them on another. I help people learn how to soothe and comfort themselves (inner parenting) and lastly how to re-frame the situation. We all tend to perceive reality according to what our past experiences were, thus healing expands our perception and our ability to see ourselves, and hence others, more clearly. In this same way sometimes our children can trigger us, especially when they reach an age in which we may have had a traumatic experience. When we are unconscious, we project our pain outwards onto others. When we have done our work, we notice our reactions, express emotions consciously and responsibly, re-frame, and then are free to choose how we want to respond. Being integrated means being free. Knowing ourselves means we choose our experiences rather than falling victim to them. The relationship between therapist and client is a powerful bond that can create a container in which to safely do the work. The therapist re-parents and guides until the person is able to do this for themselves. Most of us did not get adequate parenting as children, but the good news is in therapy this occurs organically and at some point we can learn to parent ourselves, once we have experienced a positive connection with our therapist.
You have had the unique experience of working with both victims and perpetrators. First of all why have you chosen to work with perpetrators and how are you able to see then as more than their behavior?
I think it started with my own personal experience of having been abused as a child. I could see that my abusers were in pain/torment, and hence inflicting harm. I understood at some point that perpetrators had also once been victims, and in their trauma chose to pass on the abuse. This phenomenon can lead to generational abuse. When I was a young professional working with survivors, it occurred to me one of the best ways to stop the cycle of violence was to help offenders heal. It was initially difficult as I was identifying with survivors, but as I began to see the very deep pain offenders were also experiencing, my innate compassion took over. This doesn’t mean I was not also very firm about the abusive behaviors in question. When I facilitated Batterers groups, I would start my first group meeting with asking the men to share an incident in which they were violent to a partner or family member. They would typically respond saying the victim made them do it, or they didn’t do anything. I informed them that their abuse work was much like addiction work, the first symptom was denial…so they could choose to either share or if they could not face their abusive actions I could talk to their probation officer and they could return to jail. The first meeting broke through resistance and soon group members were eager to participate. In the end, most wanted to continue after the program was complete, and with my encouragement created peer led men’s groups with each other.
Max, what do you observe as your core skill? You are also offering general therapy with individuals, couples and families.
My core skill is my heart and my life experiences in healing others and myself. I am open to all teachings and modalities, and over years have incorporated those techniques and skills that in my experience are most helpful. As an example, in addition to extensive training in trauma, I trained in modalities such as EMDR, drama and art therapy, family therapy, sand tray therapy and cognitive behavioral techniques. In my quest for more holistic healing that incorporates the body and soul (western psychology usually stops at the mind/emotions) I spent time living in the Amazon in Peru and studying with Shamans. I learned and practiced meditation and educated myself on nutrition. My MA was in neuropsychology so I have an understanding of how the brain plays into trauma and recovery. Essentially, I am eclectic, and feel a variety of modalities are necessary to facilitate healing the whole person. As such, I teach my clients about all these in order to help them recreate balance and health in their lives.
Max what goals do you maintain for your clients?
I believe everyone is striving to evolve and grow into the highest, healthiest version of themselves, and often this journey requires help and guidance form others. I am one such guide, and my ultimate goal is to have people learn the tools and skills they need to live their best life, and to eventually be able to be their own therapist. I know I have been effective when my clients no longer need me.
Can you give us an overview of your services?
What I offer is individual, family, couples and/or group therapy. Part of my work also involves teaching and deprogramming from negative self-talk/behaviors. I have worked with a range of clients; one of my gifts is the ability to help people in all circumstances. My expertise is in trauma, where I have worked with survivors as well as perpetrators. I also work with people struggling with depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship issues, parenting difficulties, LGBTQ issues and spiritual emergency. I work with adults, teens and families.
In addition to working with individuals, you are also working with groups.
I have done much group work and find it a very effective healing modality for people with certain issues. It is also a lower cost alternative to individual therapy. I led many groups for survivors of rape, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and addictions. I also directed a batterer’s program in Virginia where I ran domestic battery/anger management groups for men arrested for violence against women and family. I worked with teens that had behavioral issues in groups as well. I will be creating groups for both men and women with trauma and PTSD, and other groups such as parenting and relationship skills groups. I will put out that information in my August piece with LocalsGuide.
Please talk more about your own worldview as it relates to the work you do.
I believe we are here to grow and evolve our soul through experiences and relationships with others. When we first come through our mother’s body we do not see ourselves as separate, yet. Babies experience themselves as me-mom (or caregiver). As we grow, we become more separated from that original oneness and become indoctrinated by our culture to view each other for our differences, rather than our common humanity. We use labels to create division in many forms, whether by race, gender, sexual orientation, class, political party and nationality. We are taught to compete rather than cooperate. We learn hierarchy and that some are more valued than others. We incriminate those less fortunate, such as blaming victims for their victimization or the poor/homeless for their misfortune. When we judge others we create more division. Greed has come to dominate our world, where what we have, drive and wear is what we think we are. We identify with the labels given to us and limit others and ourselves in boxes we did not create. This sense of separation is causing us to lose our compassion and caring for others, including animals and our planet. As a human species, we are facing our own demise based on systems that serve corporate interests above human health and safety. We have to work increasingly longer hours to make ends meet, which takes energy away from relationships and self-care. We fall out of balance and are in survival mode rather than thriving. We become stressed, anxious, depressed and ill. We become fragmented by the violence that pervades our society, and pass it onwards. I view the world’s problems as a macrocosm of our individual problems. Eckhart Tolle states we cannot clean up the outer pollution until we clean up our inner garbage. I see consciousness as the place where we can change our inner and outer realities. When we are healed and integrated we have inner freedom. We are no longer reactive and our hearts come back online. Heaven and hell are not places, but internal states of being. As each of us does our shadow work, we collectively create a world free of outer trauma. We have the power to stop creating collective hell on earth, and instead co-create heaven on earth. Imagine a world of people who are balanced, who have healed their wounds and who act compassionately and cooperatively with others. Like ripples in a pond, each of us healing ourselves heals the outer world. Knowing ourselves is the ultimate freedom. When we are no longer leaking energy on coping with or addicting away the myriad wounds inside us, we can then become the creative loving beings we organically are…and will co-create a world that benefits all of life. I watch people around babies and little children, their faces light up and their walls go down…I think because we are seeing true human nature, open hearted, vulnerable, honest and creative. This is our birthright, and it is my belief that by healing the wounds inside us, we can return to our organic loving nature. We can live in balance and health, we can heal from the traumas in our lives, and we can come together to work for the benefit of all. I strive to become an ever better version of myself. I am fallible, but use my failings to grow and improve…and my passion is to help others learn how to do this for themselves.
Max as part of the intention of this interview you are also very interested in connecting with other professionals in the Rogue Valley to be of assistance and service to them.
I am, both in a personal and professional matter. On a personal level it is exciting to meet like-minded folks. I have had the pleasure of meeting a few healers of various modalities in Ashland already. Healing, in my opinion, incorporates mind, body and soul…hence I look forward to meeting other professionals whom I can refer to. On my end, I can offer my services to clientele that other professionals may find challenging or are unable to help. I welcome any referrals and/or questions other healers may have for me. I believe working together is most effective in serving the needs of the community. I am happy to consult with other professionals as well.
Max, currently you have openings in your practice. What types of clientele are best-suited to work with you, and what are the next steps?
I would say the best-suited clientele are those people who are ready and motivated to do their work. Those interested can either call me or email me to set up an appointment and see if we are suited to working together. I do not take insurance but keep my fee low and have a sliding scale. I work with people individually, in couples, families and groups. Should it be necessary, I can work with people in Spanish and/or Italian in addition to English speakers.
Finally, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. Are there any last thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
I am thrilled to be living in Ashland with my family. I appreciate the beauty and nature in this area, and find people to be down to earth and kind. I am impressed with the Ashland community and the healing, artistic and spiritual culture that pervades this gem of a town. I am grateful to be living here and hope to give back in my own way. I invite potential clients to reach out, and look forward to meeting other professionals and sharing ideas and skills. Thank you, Shields, for this opportunity to share myself with the community.
940 Pinecrest Terrace
Ashland OR 97520