Acupuncturist of the Month

Walla Walla, WA, Acupuncturist of the Month, Lindsey Thompson, EAMP, L.Ac, MAcOM

Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Lindsey has been in practice since 2013 after volunteering with the Acupuncture Relief Project in Nepal, and completing her studies at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 2012 in Portland, OR. She has a passion for helping patients understand how to use food as medicine, and loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and helping people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.

Welcome, Lindsey Thompson! Thank you for joining us for Acupuncturist of the Month!

So, how long have you been practicing acupuncture for? 

I’ve been practicing acupuncture for a little over 7 years now…

What inspired you to become an acupuncturist?  

I had a back injury that kept me from walking more than half a mile when I was a senior in high school. I tried an acupuncturist and she not only healed my back, she opened the door to a whole new world of understanding the body. I noticed that my digestion, sleep, and stress level all improved while I was being treated for back pain.

Once I was in college, I realized that I wanted a career that would inspire me and directly help people. The more I thought about it, the one on one experience with patients of all different walks of life and the constant ability to learn, grow, and help people drew me to pursuing a career in acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

We notice that in addition to acupuncture, you also have virtual classes available for your patients. Tell us a little more about them.

I created three adult self-care classes based on conditions I work with regularly in the clinic and three pediatric tui na classes for parents to use at home with their little ones. I developed the virtual classes in response to the current pandemic. I closed my practice for three months during the initial peak period of infection rates in the state that I live in, and wanted to find a way to still connect with my patients while offering options for self-care and healing in addition to Telehealth appointments.

The virtual classes for adults combine ear seed protocols, Chinese medical nutrition, mindfulness, and a little explanation of pattern differentiation for patients on a handful of topics from women’s health to stress management. I’m working to film them, so that I can start offering them as videos for streaming, so that I can find a little more work life balance again.

We love that you have a specialized video course series on Chinese nutrition for patients! Tell us what inspired you to create this 6-part course, and how has it helped your patients?

Thank you! I love Chinese nutrition and have had Paul Pitchford’s book, Healing With Whole Foods since I was 15 years old. I developed the Chinese nutrition course after noticing how frequently I was teaching introductory Chinese nutrition concepts to my patients. I wanted to help them understand what we look for as signs of imbalance in the body, so that patients know when their body is asking for help. The first half of each video talks about each organ system pair, and what to listen for in your body for signs of imbalance.

Then, the second half takes it into the kitchen to learn what flavors of food, cooking styles, and ingredients will support the common imbalances in each organ system. It has helped my patients to be able to be more connected to their acupuncture treatments and health goals. Some patients now come in more frequently because they know what symptoms mean their body is out of balance and can benefit from acupuncture. Essentially it has helped some patients think more preventatively about their health, instead of waiting until something is dramatically out of sorts before making an appointment.

The videos have also streamlined a lot of my communication with patients, since my patients that watch the videos already have a general understanding of what Qi, blood, body fluids, yin and yang, dampness, excess and deficient heat/cold, etc. mean, as well as the body tissue and mental/emotional relationships with each organ system. It means I can talk about more advanced self-care and homework a lot sooner in the patient-practitioner relationship, and patients know why I’m recommending certain types of self-care, so they are more invested in following through with it.

What are your specialties in acupuncture?

Pain management, women’s health including fertility, and mental wellness including PTSD management.

How has tele-medicine changed your practice during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It was my main way to connect with patients for 3 months. In doing Telehealth, I realized that there is a lot more than acupuncture that I offer to each patient in the treatment room. It has been really rewarding to see results with demonstrating ear seed protocols in the ear for a wide variety of conditions, mindfulness practices, self-massage and trigger point release, as well as recommending different types of hydrotherapy for health.

I did a lot more Chinese herbal medicine, and I think tele-medicine has gotten more of my patients invested in Chinese herbal medicine. I was a minimal ear seed user prior to the pandemic, now I use them all the time, and have learned how to treat many more ailments with ear seeds. I am back in the office now, but I still have Telehealth appointments every day for patients that want to simply do herbal medicine, or need to continue self-isolating. It is really rewarding to be able to help people have access to care from home, where they would otherwise go without care.

What is one thing about acupuncture & eastern medicine, that to this day, still amazes you?

I am always in awe of this medicine. It amazes me when a patient can feel a point pulsating on a meridian that I am working with where there is no needle. I am continually amazed at how quickly keloid scars will disappear with just a short series of acupuncture treatments, and I am always amazed at how quickly we can reduce menorrhagia with a little moxa on a couple points and an herbal formula. We are so lucky to have access to studying and practicing this medicine.

On your journey to become an acupuncturist, what obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome them?

Not having a business degree, and not having any money to put towards starting my practice. For help with business, I did 10 informational interviews with acupuncturists in the Pacific Northwest where I live to ask them what their biggest mistakes and successes were when starting out, and how long it took to build a full practice. This was invaluable in framing my expectations starting out. I also reached out to our local Small Business Development Center which is a free non-profit, and just did everything they recommended for the first two years of practice.

Financially, I waited tables for the first 8 months that I opened my practice. I lived off of my hourly pay and put all of the tips into my practice and all of the income from the acupuncture business directly into my business. I started out renting a room to keep my overhead low, and luckily was able to stop waiting tables after the 8 month mark, and could expand into my own office within the first year of being in practice.

Looking back, what advice would you have given to the younger version of yourself, who was just getting started in this profession?

I’m pretty proud of how I started out. The informational interviews and following the advice of the SBDC made starting out a relatively smooth process. I am big on listening to others that have more experience than myself. The advice I would give now is actually for later in my development.

When I first hired office staff to help me, I wish I could have told myself that learning to hire takes practice just like any skill, and to not beat myself up over hiring someone that didn’t click well with the practice initially. Hiring and employing people is one of the biggest pressure points for personal growth that I’ve had in my career. I’m grateful for it, but it takes time, practice, and a little discomfort as you personally grow.

Running a practice is not a simple or easy task – what do you feel was the biggest challenge in getting your practice up and running?

It was really hard for me to be both the practitioner and the money collector at the front desk. When I started out, it was just me wearing all the hats. I don’t like being the person that has to tell someone they are too late for me to be able to treat them, or that cancelling 5 minutes before their appointment, means I need to charge our agreed upon late-cancellation fee. As soon as I could, I brought on office staff, and it reduced my personal stress immensely. Then I could just focus on being the practitioner. I know plenty of other practitioners that have no problem wearing all of the hats, but for me, it is worth every penny of payroll to have office staff to take the money collection stress out of my daily life.

What keeps an acupuncture practice going?

A dedication to customer service and continued work on clear communication keeps a practice going as far as interactions with patients.  For myself, making sure that I take a couple long weekends a year interspersed with two longer vacations keeps me going, and finally, having a couple colleagues that I have regular phone dates or ‘practitioner tea’ with to have a sense of kinship in the profession. We are cheerleaders for each other, and help each other make decisions in our business from late cancellation policies to what to do if something challenging and out of the blue occurs in the office.

For the customer service angle, I am always trying to see what areas of communication I need to improve in the treatment room, and from my electronic communications with patients. The more a patient understands about the process the more they trust the office, and feel invested in their health. I also find that a huge area of customer service is helping to manage expectations around costs, especially when patients are using insurance.

The more we can avoid financial surprises, the more patients trust us. And since finances are one of the bigger stressors in individuals lives, I see this also as an act of health care to minimize financial surprises. That means we work hard to bill the same day to insurance to reduce any delay in EOBs from insurance, and we do a lot of leg work up front to make sure we have the correct verification of benefits for patients. I also discuss treatment planning at each visit, so patients can gage accurately how often they need to come in, and what to budget for.

What makes you feel inspired about acupuncture?

Truly everything. I love how acupuncture often can help patients see the emotional, and mind-body connection. It opens up so many wonderful conversations that you can tell many patients haven’t had before.

What has been the most rewarding moment so far in your career as an acupuncturist?

If I had to pick one, it would be early on, I had a patient that was nursing and had 3 other children. All of her children were coming in underweight, especially the infant. She was so worried and trying all these things to try to help her family be as healthy as possible, but nothing seemed to work to improve the weight of her children. We were able to assess both diet for her as a breast feeding mom, and the overall diet for the family. In a very short period of time, the infant hit all her growth markers, and all but the pickiest eater hit their weight goals. Seeing the relief on her face is still my favorite moment in practice. We did moxibustion for her and the infant, but honestly it was adjusting the diet from a Chinese nutrition angle that got us to her goals.

We have all occasionally had a patient come into our practice who is upset, frustrated, and a little angry. Maybe it’s from work, being stuck in traffic, or life in general – we have all been there! What advice would you give to fellow acupuncture students and/or colleagues on how to deal with situations like these?

It’s really powerful to be able to hold physical space for someone’s anger. It helps to keep an open body language, ground down really firmly through your feet and try to anchor the room while keeping your body open, and simply listen. If the anger is directed at your clinic or you personally, continue to hold that space, and try to figure out what is beneath the anger. Is it fear? Is it fear of finances? Is it fear of not being cared for if they are super late…? That can help to support the person, and to diffuse the anger.

What are your favorite acupuncture points, and why?

Do I really have to pick favorites? I love doing muscle sinew channel treatments. I know I’m not directly answering your question, but muscle sinew channel treatments can be so shockingly effective at getting someone out of acute pain, I love seeing the dramatic results before and after. It also feels good to find the knotty or gummy points and needle into them. I love the sensation of needling into these points, and chiseling the energy to the most distal point on the channel.

Sometimes, the best resource for improving our skills is by learning from the other acupuncturists we meet along our professional journey.  What is one thing you learned from a fellow acupuncturist or other holistic practitioner, that has helped you in your professional growth, or in your care for patients? 

While in school, I did a few “Whole Heart Connection” workshops with Thea Elijah, and she helped me learn how to walk into each treatment full. What I mean by that is, to be mindful of my energy from eating, sleeping, and learning to draw energy from the ground to fill me up, in order to be working with my patients qi from a place of fullness, and to use that energy of the earth to ensure that I was not using up my personal qi in working with patients.

This helped me have the energy to treat all day and not come home exhausted. The workshop also taught me how to practice grounding in uncomfortable situations, like a patient being really upset, to be able to hold space for those emotions. It has definitely made a huge difference in how much I can do in a day to have these practices. I also have to honor my herbal supervisor John Servilio for teaching me to trust my intuition in both point selection and herbal formula selection.

The COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt had a significant impact on the acupuncture practice community and small businesses alike.  As the economy progresses to re-opening acupuncture offices and other businesses, how have you been handling the COVID-19 situation as an acupuncture practice owner and individual?  What advice or wisdom would you like to share with other acupuncturists who are also navigating through these sensitive times?

I would recommend finding 2-4 close colleagues that you can safely and non-competitively talk about finances with. People that you trust and can talk about all of your metrics. It is invaluable to have a handful of people to help you make hard decisions about whether or not you need to down size, discuss PPE and sanitizing procedures, or try to come up with a new way to navigate business during the pandemic. Do not be afraid to ask for help, but also look for voices you can trust to give you both respect and tough love when you need it. Facebook forums can be equally supportive and hostile. I’d rather be vulnerable about my business with people that I trust to honor that vulnerability. 

Do you have any daily habits or rituals that keep you at your “best-self”, both as an acupuncture practitioner and person?

I did have a solid daily set of habits before having a toddler. Now I really have a deeper understanding of how hard it is for parents of toddlers and infants to do regular self care. My new self-care with a toddler is to utilize ear seeds for stress and anxiety weekly. Take my herbs. And do 10 minutes of alternate nostril breathing mediation 5 days a week. I try to get acupuncture from a colleague 2x a month as well.

The kindest thing a patient said to you recently:

I am really inspired by all the work you do to help your patients.

If you could have one superpower what would it be and why? 

I have always wanted to fly. I used to dream about it as a child. I really want to be able to feel the clouds on my skin, and move quickly to visit friends and family members.

Where can licensed acupuncturists, students, and patients go to learn more about your work? (my virtual classes, blog, and the nutrition videos can all be accessed here as well).

Instagram: thompsonfamilyacu

Instagram: ancientrootsnutrition