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Meet Kristy Lamb, MD of BOLD Health in North County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristy Lamb, MD.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
While I was raised in the “Deep South,” in Pensacola Florida, I knew from an early age that I was a West Coast girl at heart. I completed my undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University with a BS in Neuroscience, with the long-term plan to attend medical school, but knew I had a few things to accomplish beforehand. I spent one year as a ski bum in Vail, Colorado and then made my way down from the mountains to Denver, where I worked first as a math teacher and then as a mental health counselor at Excelsior Youth Center, a residential treatment facility for teen girls. During that time, I earned a Masters in Humanities with a focus in Philosophy and Social Theory from the University of Colorado, further exploring the human condition.

In 2004 I moved from Colorado to Washington DC where I earned my MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine. During medical school, I had a strong interest in working with patients struggling with substance dependence: I volunteered with Prevention Works in Washington, DC to facilitate a needle exchange program, and sought out additional experience in dual-diagnosis outpatient rehabilitation. I also worked as a health educator at Casa de Gabriella, a women’s shelter with a focus on victims of domestic violence. My interest in international health took her to Costa Rica, where I participated in the set-up of a free clinic in the small town of Quesada. I earned the Georgetown University Robert R. Huntley, M.D. Award for Academic Excellence in Family Medicine.

It was during medical school that the inseparable connection between mind and body became clear and I realized that fully treat my patients I would need to be adept at understanding not only their physical needs but their emotional, social and spiritual needs as well. So, after graduation from Georgetown School of Medicine, I moved to San Diego to start a combined residency in Family Medicine and Psychiatry through UC San Diego Medical Center. A highly competitive program, (two residents per year) focused on serving the underserved through a partnership with St. Vincent DePaul Village (SVDPV), a one of a kind homeless shelter that provides medical care, psychiatry, dentistry and educational opportunities for the homeless population. SVDPV sees the hardest cases in medicine with a clientele riddled with mental illness, substance abuse, PTSD, and difficulty maintaining even the most basic medical treatment plan as finding food and shelter trumps everything else. My experience there furthered my desire to develop a pioneering substance abuse program that could actualize much higher success rates than what was currently available.

During residency, I enjoyed exploring a variety of other medical interests. But most significantly my interest in psychotherapy led me to complete the San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute Fellowship, and I created space for a psychotherapy clinic in my 5th year elective time as well as graduating from in the inaugural class of the UCSD Fellowship in Public and Community Psychiatry. I was awarded the UCSD Medical Student Teaching Award in Psychiatry in 2010.

After residency I worked in a number of different environments. I worked at Family Health Center’s downtown doing both Family Medicine and Psychiatry working on the integration of mental health in community clinics. I helped start UC San Diego Concierge Medical Clinic downtown and concurrently worked at the jail doing psychiatry.

However it was in 2014 when I made the commitment to complete a 3 year core training in Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) with world renowned Patricia Coughlin, PhD, that I found the type of psychotherapy that could achieve the results that I wanted to see in clients – an emotion focused treatment that gets to the core of mental distress while empowering patients to step into their highest selves.

In 2015, along with Dr. Chris Small, MD, another graduate from the UCSD Combined Residency, and my husband William, we took a courageous leap and started BOLD Health. We wanted to create a place where people could take on their physical and mental health issues concurrently, a revolutionary approach to health focusing on psychiatry and addiction medicine with the understanding that engaging in treatment is a courageous and bold step. Our approach is focused on Mind+Body, whole person care. To that end, we offer a host of mind and body fitness programs including: yoga, pilates, mindfulness, personal and group fitness, maternal mental health, and of course, our one-of-a-kind intensive outpatient program for addiction. I am married to by best friend William Lamb and have 2 daughters Zoë who is 5 years old and Zadie who is 7 months old. I enjoy the beach, intense fitness, and getting to the mountains for skiing at least once a year.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been a number of obstacles and challenges leaving the health care machine of organized medicine. It’s a bit daunting to leave behind a salary, benefits, educational resources, and the support of the university system or the community health system. It was especially hard to leave behind the community health population.

I grew up, medically speaking, in the world of underserved and homeless care; it’s why I went into medicine. But the system is so broken, I really didn’t see another way out. I sat on committees, met with CEOs and financers and tried to pitch innovative ways of collaboration and providing care but the systems are too big and too entrenched to allow for one squeaky wheel to do something different. I often was gently redirected for thinking outside the box or pushing limits of what was possible with patients, especially with psychiatric patients. I realized that the only way I was really going to make a difference, other than going into politics was to create something entirely different and then produce the research to prove that it works so that it can be used in the community setting. But it is still really hard to not be working where there is so much need. I have spots on my patient panel for very low fee patients as low as 10% of my normal rate and sliding scale but the waitlist for that is very long.

I’ve had my ups and downs but most of those came from the frustration and disappointment of being constrained by the status quo. It wasn’t until partnering with Dr. Small that we threw off the shackles of traditional medical thinking and were able to pioneer a new bold path to what medicine should be – a partnership with the patient to reach the highest level of mental and physical fitness, devoid of addictions, and overcoming long seeded roadblocks to reach peak mind+body performance. We started from a small office in Encinitas with a dream: we wanted to build a practice that was rooted in science, backed up with data, and did everything imaginable to find success for our clients.

We didn’t focus on the business side of things because we knew that if we provided the best quality of care that clients would hear about us and the business side would work itself out. We aren’t business people, probably to our detriment, but we aren’t trying to make a quick dollar. We had to trust the process, that by providing a higher quality of care, people would come – and they did. We are still growing our outpatient programs for addiction and mental health but it is only a matter of time before word gets out about what we are doing there. It’s unheard of within the addiction industry to offer a program run by actual doctors with a revolutionary new curriculum, and a team of researchers monitoring each outcome to constantly improve the program. We weave mindfulness, bio-feedback, and fitness into our program so that clients learn multiple ways to manage anxiety and have the toolbox of techniques to conquer any situation. The sobriety we work with our patients to create is not in shame, guilt, white knuckling it or punishment but rather, a BOLD approach of empowerment, treating addiction at its core – the clear path to long term success.

BOLD Health – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
BOLD Health is a total mind and body fitness clinic specializing in psychiatry and addiction medicine. We believe in helping our clients attain their highest level of functioning, both mentally and physically. We are a clinic run by physicians, not business people. We want a revolution in medical care to provide the highest quality treatment imaginable, treating the whole person (mind+body) not just symptoms.

We offer an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in addiction that had an entirely new curriculum we developed in conjunction with other leading experts in addiction medicine. Not only does our program pioneer new techniques in addiction treatment, but also it is one of the only programs in the world that has an international research team constantly monitoring and analyzing data to continually improve the program based on individual needs.

In addition to our general psychiatry and addiction treatment, BOLD Health offers an extensive array of treatments and providers covering: maternal mental health, mindfulness, couples counseling, outpatient detox, meditation, and life coaching. It’s important to note, that BOLD Health doesn’t just treat illnesses, we inspire wellness, self-improvement and actualization. BOLDFIT, is our innovative fitness program for any fitness level, offering weekly boot camps, group exercise, and personal training. Finally, we have launched BOLD Wellness, which is our monthly membership service that is the only program around to incorporate true mind and body fitness. The membership includes: yoga, personal and group training, mindfulness and mediation classes, and a mental tune-up with one of our practitioners.

What sets us apart is our ethos. Physicians are bred to perpetuate hierarchies and power dynamics with patients but through my psychodynamic training I learned pretty quickly that I have nothing on my patients. I have no power to make anyone take medication, stop drugs, come for care, eat right, exercise. It is truly only when the patient wants these things that they happen and when I gave up my omnipotence I could sleep better at night and my patients started getting better, faster. I became a co-collaborator and now most highly value patient’s autonomy and internal compass. I honor both my patient’s and my own human-ness. I answer all my own phone calls, return all my own emails and create a personal relationship with all of my patients.

Accordingly, we are not business people trying to make a buck – we are physicians committed to clinical care. We are MD’s board certified not only in psychiatry but also in family medicine so we can treat the whole person. We have a revolutionary new approach to addiction treatment that is not actually focused on the substance but instead on the human being tortured by the substance. We take a non-shaming, empowerment approach and focus on anxiety and affective regulation, looking beyond the drugs or alcohol to get to what has been driving the substance use, to get to the core. We can do this because all of our staff are doctoral level providers and have the clinical expertise to go deeper.

Our commitment to professional development and research is also unparalled. We have weekly supervision with Jon Frederickson a world leader in intensive short term dynamic psychotherapy (ISTDP) which our curriculum is based off. All of our staff are participating together in 3 year core training in ISTDP with Jon meeting quarterly in Washington DC. We have started a community meeting for providers to meet monthly for education, community and networking. We are also running a full research program to track and monitor our results.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I’m fortunate to work in a profession where I get to see amazing moments of personal transformation and success on a daily basis. Many of my clients have battled a lifetime of mental illness or personal trauma and I get to see the personal success stories as they work to overcome the roadblocks that have held them back. But what sticks out for me right now is seeing our first graduation from our intensive outpatient program in addiction.

Most of our initial graduates had been through other programs and felt like failures because they couldn’t maintain sobriety. So when they came to our program and saw something entirely new, something both inspirational and transformational, they soaked it up and got to work. To see the changes in these clients is the reason we do this. They came in expecting the same old outdated curriculum and looked to hide in the back of the room. But when we showed our methodology they became active participants in their recovery. To change lives with positivity and purpose, not guilt and shame, gives us all tremendous pride. When family members come to us in tears, stating that their son or daughter had been in ten programs before this, and now is not only sober, but empowered, that’s what makes this so fulfilling.

We don’t have a wand to magically wave away addiction – I wish we did. It’s hard work and requires clients to look deep inside. But when they do this and can see light, after years of darkness and pain, there is something magical that happens, a hunger to get well comes out – and nothing can stop it. That’s why we do this. We believe we have a program unlike any other and we have the research to back it up. We’re just starting to get the word out and get excited about introducing our program to the world.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Daniel Berhane – First professional photo of me, all the rest were taken by William Lamb (my husband and our Director of Marketing)

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