By Elisabeth Forsythe
1. What is your educational background?
BA in Biology from Reed College
Yoga Teacher Training from Diane Wilson Yoga
Masters in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine
2. What inspired you to get into Chinese medicine?
I first tried acupuncture when I was 19 years old. I was terrified of the idea of having needles stuck into me, but I was in such severe neck and back pain that I was willing to try anything. In my first appointment I learned that not only was acupuncture gentle, but that the needles were painless, and I left the treatment feeling relaxed and completely pain free. It was a powerful experience for me.
More than a decade after my first treatment, I had graduated with a degree in biology that I had never used, although I still loved the natural sciences. I was working in the finance industry. I was getting regular acupuncture for my insomnia and sciatica. Concurrently, I was practicing and teaching yoga, and I had a regular meditation practice (and I still do). I loved seeing the possibilities and changes in health that people experienced from yoga. My yoga practice and teaching experience planted the seed that I wanted to do more to help people realize a greater level of body awareness and health.
I also felt a sincere desire to serve in a deeper capacity. I had a good job, but I didn’t feel fulfilled by the work. I felt that I might be of better service to my community in a health-related field—that I could work with people on their health in a real and individual level. I explored the possibilities: naturopath, medical doctor, nurse practitioner, acupuncturist. I looked at all the options, and for about six months integrated the process with my meditation work. The only option that continued to resonate with me over time was the field of Chinese medicine. I wanted to work in a health field that had a completely holistic approach to the body, and acupuncture felt like the only fit.
So I quit my secure, well-paying finance job to enter acupuncture school, and I’ve never regretted it. I know it is a cliché, but I feel I am practicing a form of medicine that is so natural to me—as if I’ve been practicing for lifetimes. I love that I have a job that helps people feel better. I am humbled and awed by the people I’ve treated—at how strong they are, and at their ability to achieve healing. I just feel so grateful to be in this line of work.
3. How do you feel Chinese medicine and acupuncture can best help people?
Chinese medicine is wonderful because it is holistic—it addresses the body as an integrated, whole system. Every time there is pain or illness, every other aspect of the body is impacted. Therefore, Chinese medicine treats both the manifestation (symptoms) of the illness while also working on the root cause of the illness.
The upside of this is that people tend to feel better in surprising ways when they are treated with Chinese medicine. A great example is a patient I saw last year for hip pain. Not only did the hip pain (that she had lived with for over 10 years) completely resolve, but her PMS symptoms were relieved and she went through the spring and summer with no seasonal allergies (which she had never had happen before). I have seen this over and over again with my patients, and I regularly hear “I wish I had known about acupuncture years ago.”
Unlike pharmaceutical treatment, where people are put on a drug they then have to take indefinitely, acupuncture and Chinese medicine addresses and resolves the root of the problem so that patients may graduate from care. Although some people may opt to continue “tune-up” type treatments once a month or so to help maintain health and balance, the goal is to complete a treatment plan that culminates with satisfactory resolution of the issues. Unlike pharmaceutical or surgical options, acupuncture is safe and gentle, with few side effects.
Acupuncture gives people a chance to relax and go inside for an hour; people often use it as an opportunity to nap or meditate. Acupuncture also puts people in touch with their bodies. People who receive acupuncture develop a deeper awareness of their own health, and they start to notice early changes when illnesses are just starting because they notice when something feels “off” or “just not right.”
4. What personality traits do you have that are helpful to patients or coordinate well with Chinese medicine?
I am honest and direct—I won’t beat around the bush, I will ask questions, I will say “I don’t know” when I don’t know something, and I’ll give my honest opinions and thoughts. If I think I can help someone, I’ll be honest about that. If an issue is out of my scope of practice, or if the patient needs a second opinion, I’ll readily refer out to the most appropriate practitioner (be it an orthopedist, chiropractor, neurologist, physical or massage therapist, etc.)
I am thorough, detailed, and organized—this is especially useful for Chinese medicine. Acupuncturists have a unique challenge because we work in the Chinese medicine mode of care, but we live and work in a culture that dominantly operates with western biomedical treatments. As such, acupuncturists have to bridge the gap between our Chinese medicine and western biomedical education. This means that I am always looking at every symptom and each issue through two lenses. I believe that I have a strong natural ability to analyze from both perspectives, and synthesize cohesive treatment strategies that include the best wisdom of both medical theories.
I am able to bring some clarity and organization to the myriad health issues a person may be dealing with. Most people are taking multiple medications, or have a variety of primary and specialty doctors. I can help people organize and understand what is going on and why.
I am a goal-oriented person. This helps when I am trying to assist others who wish to break habit patterns and develop new behaviors. I can work as a partner with my patients to collaboratively set tenable goals, develop outcome-based strategies to meet the goals, and regularly check in to measure the progress of the goals. If the initial goals or strategies aren’t working, we can adjust the goals to be successful while still being feasible.
I also really like to hear people’s stories. A new treatment process always begins with a new patient telling me the story of their health, which always involves, to some extent, the story of their life. I revel in the experience of getting to listen to people’s interests, joys, and challenges. A story of illness and suffering also contains a story of health, healing, and the experience of being a human with a physical form. Oftentimes, people tell me, in ways that they aren’t even aware of, how I can help them improve their health. I learn so much just from listening to my patients.
5. What is your personal philosophy for life?
I believe that we are put on this planet to serve one another and learn as much as possible during our brief lives. To be truly of service—either towards others or for oneself—we must cultivate and live from a place of gratitude. I think true grace comes from gratitude, and gratitude works as a wonderful tool to put things into perspective, dissolve anger, soften disappointment or sadness, and free limitations. I think growth without gratitude is merely ambition and not true growth at all.
I believe it is important to be honest, open to change, and to consciously take what is useful from our interactions and experiences and leave/let go of the rest. Self-reflection and accountability is so important, and it takes continuous dedication and work to develop and maintain personal awareness. None of us operate in a vacuum, and I think that we need to hear the people around us, love others as a much as possible, and take personal ownership for our choices and actions.
6. What do you hope to achieve with this business?
I hope to make acupuncture and Chinese medicine accessible and viable to people who have not previously explored alternative medicine.
I hope to provide the highest quality results-focused Chinese medicine healthcare to the inner Portland metro area.
I hope that every person who walks out of my office leaves with some shift or improvement in the quality of his or her wellbeing.
I hope to educate each person I work with, so that they understand what acupuncture and Chinese medicine can do to help them with their health. I want to empower people to take ownership of their health outcomes as much as possible.
7. What are you most passionate about?
Well, I am especially passionate about Chinese medicine and acupuncture. I love watching people feel better—this field is the most inspiring work I’ve ever experienced or imagined.
In my private life, I am passionate about my family—and in particular, my marriage to my husband Andrew. I learn so much from him every day. He challenges me to be honest, accountable, and patient. I am who I am, and I am doing what I do, in large part because of my husband, and I feel that I continue to become an increasingly better human because of my relationship with Andrew.
I love to learn new things, especially from the people around me, and every situation is an opportunity for growth. I learn a lot from all types of work; I enjoy learning new skills and facing new challenges. The only thing I am truly afraid of is not growing. For me, a really bad day is one where I didn’t learn anything at all.
I am passionate about yoga. Yoga is what started me on the path that led me to acupuncture. I think people can do a tremendous amount of self-care for their own health by practicing yoga.
I am also passionate about the natural world—especially animals, but plants and land, too. I love watching the spiders outside, discovering which plants will grow in my measly garden, interacting with our cats, feeding our hummingbirds, finding a new cliff in the wilderness, or catching a glimpse of wild animals when I’m hiking or camping. I even love the cows that roam loose on Mt Hood. I used to work as a sled dog musher, and I really miss having lots of dogs in my life, although I have some special dog buddies who live with friends. My mother taught me to observe and respect the natural world—starting with simple things, like not chasing seagulls or how to look carefully in tide pools—and I’ve always worked to be a good steward to the plants, animals, and land.