A Golden Touch for Chiropractors
Ralph Lee Smith
Today's Health Magazine, 1968
|Editor's note: Our writer takes the world's leading "success course" for chiropractors.
He learns to "open the trap door," initiate the "yet disease," and "dig for chronicity."
Graduates may be proving the methods in your community.
"GIive your patuents the impression that you're busy and prosperous. When I was in practice I would sometimes go into another room, dial my own number, come back to my desk, answer the phone, and pretend to talk to another patient while a real patient sat there. Sometimes I would have relatives come and sit in my reception room-patients would think they were other patients. If a salesman showed up I would keep him waiting in the reception room for a while—same reason. Also, you can study a patient's records with a flashlight in an adjoining broom closet, then walk in with them as if you were coming in from Room 86 of your 'suite!'"
The speaker was James W. Parker, one of the most successful chiropractors in the United States—a shrewd, earthy man, a born story teller, and a person of tireless energy. He has the revivalist preacher's gift for holding an audience for hours, permitting his voice to gain in speed and rise in pitch and dramatic intensity, then suddenly lowering it to make a point, start another subject, or tell an unexpected deadpan joke. Also, like many a backwoods preacher of legend, he is perfectly at ease urging his audience to IO\·e their fellow men while slyly encouraging them to exploit these same fellow creatures from here to breakfast.
Parker has the King Midas touch. The creator of a chain of 18 thriving chiropractic clinics in Texas, he has grossed millions of dollars while spending over half a million on advertising and public relations. After making one fortune from ill persons he is making another from his fellow chiropractors. His project seems to be nothing less than turning the entire chiropractic profession into an army of smooth-talking merchants. I have seen James W. Parker in action; I have seen how chiropractors have responded; and I think he is likely to succeed.
Parker has set up a little enterprise called the Parker School of Professional Success. This, in turn, is a division of another Parker creation, the Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation. The scientific-sounding name of this latter organization looks good on diplomas, plaques, and the like.
Finally, there is a third organization, Share International, which uses the offices and personnel of the other two. Share International is the sales arm of the operation, providing chiropractors with materials for putting the Parker system into operation in their own practice. It issues a mail-order catalog, and also sets up shop and sells its wares during the three-day seminars in "practice building" that Parker holds six times a year, usually at the headquarters of the three enterprises in the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. Six thousand chiropractors and their assistants have attended one or more of the seminars (the 1960 census showed only 14,360 chiropractors in the entire country), and more flock to Fort Worth as each new one is held.
The Parker seminars may represent a decision on the part of chiropractic to turn to super-salesmanship for survival in a scientific age that has revealed its theory about the cause and cure of disease to be a quaint medical fairy tale.
Chiropractic is the last unchanged, widely practiced survivor of numerous therapy cults such as naturopathy and magnetic healing that sprang up in the 19th century. It was invented by an uneducated and partially illiterate grocer of Davenport, Iowa, named Daniel David Palmer. Palmer seemed to think that the great secret of the ages—the cause and cure of human disease had been vouchsafed to him and him alone.
Illness, he said, is caused by slight misalignments, called subluxations. in the vertebrae of the spine. These subluxations supposedly pinch the nerves that leave the spinal cord to various parts of the body, impairing the flow of "nerve force" on which health depends. To cure disease, he claimed, one simply forced the straying vertebrae back into place by a manual pressure on the backbone called a "chiropractic adjustment." After a series of such adjustments the malaise would disappear.
Of course, science now knows that the causes of most diseases and the correct methods for treating and curing them bear no resemblance to the Davenport grocer's naive dream. Modern research has failed to find any evidence for the kind of nerve impingements that chiropractors claim occur so frequently, and has failed to show any relationship between such alleged impingements and the cause or cure of most illness. The vast majority of health problems are clearly unrelated to malfunction of the spinal nerves because they are so obviously caused by physical injuries like fractures, chemical injuries from poisons and drugs, infections and infestations, dietary deprivation, crowding, poor hygiene, tumors, degenerative diseases, and reproductive malfunctioning.
I was therefore fascinated to know what was being said and done at the Parker seminars, which have been widely advertised in chiropractic journals. The fee for attending the three-day course is S250. I sent it in, calling myself "Dr. Lee Smith, Chiropractor." There are directories of licensed chiropractors, and I am not listed in them since I am not a chiropractor but a journalist. But my registration was accepted without question.
When I checked in at the seminar registration desk in the Hotel Texas an attractive girl smiled and handed me a handsome split-cowhide briefcase with "Dr. Lee Smith" stamped on the side in gold. Inside was a sample packet of materials available from Share International, and a 336-page multigraphed softcover book called Textbook of Office Procedure and Practice Building for the Chiropractic Profession. The seminar, I soon learned, is built around this remarkable book.
More than 200 chiropractors and their assistants were in attendance when Parker, a man of medium height with black hair, a burr haircut, black horn-rimmed glasses, and a neat, small mustache, wearing a badge that said simply "Dr. Jim," stepped to the rostrum to begin the first session at one p.m.
"At these sessions," he said, "I intend to teach you all the gimmicks, gadgets, and gizmos that can be used to get new patients ... Thinking, feeling, acting determine the amount of money you will take to the bank. . . . Remember, enthusiasm is the yeast that raises the dough."
The afternoon and evening sessions were devoted to "Success Philosophy." It turned out that, when it comes to love, the hippies have nothing on Jim Parker. To succeed, the Textbook says, the chiropractor must "LLL:
Lather Love Lavishly'!" "When you meet a new patient," Parker explained, "you can push a button. You can push the LLL button, the love button. It's like a light bulb that you switch on. When you meet a new patient, LLL him in. When you do this, you disarm a patient who has developed sales resistance."
However, like the hippies, Parker finds some people more lovable than others. An unlovable type from the chiropractor's point of view is a person with an acute illness. The course, says the Textbook, "is designed to make you a 'D.C.'—Doctor of Chronics' rather than a Doctor of Acutes." "You'll make a lot more money," Parker explained.
But what if the patient comes in with acute, rather than chronic, symptoms? The chiropractor's task, Parker said, is to try to discover that the symptoms are "an acute flareup of a chronic condition," and to convince the patient that this is so.
During this and succeeding sessions many subjects were covered, including: how to advertise for patients (chiropractors can buy mats from Share International for whole series of newspaper ads); how to get patients to refer other patients; how to answer the questions of people who doubt the validity of chiropractic treatment (a dual technique is used—frighten people away from scientific medical treatment by alleging that its methods are "deadly," and claim that such treatment, with all its dangers, deals only with "the symptoms" of disease, while chiropractic attacks and eliminates the "true cause"); when to give presents to patients and their children and what to give; how to maintain a mailing list and what literature to send; how to arrange the office suite ("Place Bible in reception room"); and how to "manage" patients who are in treatment.
Perhaps the most important topic, however, was the basic procedure for getting the patient into treatment. As the Textbook neatly summarized it: "From the time the telephone rings until the time you start the examination, you are working toward one goal: 'Mr. Jones, there is most definitely something wrong with your spine that could absolutely be causing almost all, if not every bit, of your trouble.'"
The Textbook kicks off the subject with a detailed discussion of telephone technique, including many sample conversations. "If possible," it says, "the assistant should handle calls since she can refuse requests for prices and can praise the doctor and chiropractic with an emphasis not possible for the doctor himself."
When the chiropractor does get on the line, his job is to get the prospect in. The bait on the hook is a "free consultation:"
Q: "How much do you charge?'
A: '"There is no charge. . . (pause). . . for the consultation of the first visit. This is to determine the cause of your trouble and what should be done about it." "Tact and diplomacy are necessary," the Textbook notes. "Such sentences as the following OPEN THE TRAP DOOR:
. . . I certainly understand what you mean when you say you spent so much money without getting results. We will try hard not to let that happen when you come here.
. . . Your (nice/cultured) voice tells me you are an intelligent (woman/man) and I am sure once you have made up your mind to try something you will follow through."
Actually, the Textbook explains, the patient will not learn "the cause of your trouble and what should be done about it" in the free consultation. Its purpose is to get the caller into the doctor's office so he can make a complete selling pitch in person. "The consultation is without cost," says the book, "but the examination will cost them money."
When the patient comes in, the chiropractor's assistant first secures basic information including name and address. "Check the patient's address for income status," the Textbook tells the chiropractor (later on the chiropractor is also to "learn family occupation by developing interest in the family. This should be done subtly."). The patient is then ushered into the august presence, where the chiropractor deals with him in a 13-step procedure that leaves nothing to chance.
As the unsuspecting patient enters, the chiropractor pushes the love button and lathers him lavishly. While the lather flows the chiropractor seeks to "establish common bond" through such links as "fraternal jewelry, children, similar religious affiliations."
"What would you like me to do for you?" he then asks. His moves now, according to the Textbook, are: "(1) Eye contact; (2) Lean forward; (3) Hands on desk, or one hand on edge of desk and other at side; (4) When patient begins to answer, you can lean back in chair and listen attentively with arms and legs uncrossed.''
Now comes the nitty-gritty. First, the "Yet Disease." "If the patient has a pain in his left shoulder," Doctor Parker said, "Ask, 'Has the pain started in your right shoulder yet?' Use it when you must instill a sufficient amount of fear to get the patient to take chiropractic."
The next step is to "dig for chronicity." The chiropractor puts an elaborate series of questions to the patient that suggest or imply that the condition is chronic. "How long has it been since you really felt good?" the practitioner murmurs gently. ("I make $10,000 a year on that one, easy," a chiropractor sitting next to me whispered in my ear.)
With the verbal digging completed and chronicity unearthed, the chiropractor moves on to "Connect up affected parts (pain) with the area of treatment (spine) "—that is, to tell the patient that his condition stems from spinal subluxations. Having done this, the chiropractor is then to "restate information (or acquire additional information) which may prove useful later on to explain limited results, or to excuse you from getting results expected." As a final step he releases some more lather to "establish LLL principle in patient's mind." At this point, says the Textbook, "most patients are ready to proceed."
With the fish on the line, the chiropractor is told to "Jean back," make "eye contact," and reel him in with a speech that Parker calls "the assumptive close." It goes like this:
Mr. Jones, at this point we can be sure of one thing—if you are not a chiropractic case, chiropractic will never help you. If you are a chiropractic case, nothing else will ever help you, so our first job is to determine whether or not you are a chiropractic case. We have had a number of similar cases in the past, and have found that the first thing to do is conduct a thorough (chiropractic) examination, including x-rays, laboratory tests, a physical examination, orthopedic and neurological tests, and whatever else might be indicated, depending upon what we find. If you are ready, we can begin your examination right now.' OR 'When would you like to start this examination?' OR 'Come with me.
If the fish wriggles, the chiropractor plays him carefully. The Textbook provides answers the chiropractor can give to every imaginable patient objection or reservation.
If the patient is still balky, the chiropractor offers a "preliminary examination." Beginning where the patient feels pain, he touches the afflicted parts, then says something like, "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the arm itself ... let's trace the nerves back to the spine and check there." When this has been done, Doctor Parker suggested that the chiropractor can say, "Oh, here it is. Why didn't we look here first? I'm glad we found the trouble here, because this is my specialty." During the process, said Doctor Parker, the chiropractor can "ask leading questions" and "use little comments and innuendoes. such as 'Hmm. I don't like that.'"
Now the chiropractor pulls out all the stops. "Build fear of more serious trouble, if necessary," the book says. "Proceed to make a serious statement followed by a hopeful statement, which would cover the full scale of patient feeling and emotion, as follows: 'Mrs. Brown, it's possible this could be the beginning of something serious. Let's see if chiropractic can help. It wouldn't make you mad if we [stopped this pain/made a new back] for you, would it?' "
If Mrs. Brown still doesn't see what is good for her, she gets both barrels between the eyes. "Do you feel there could be a tumor or perhaps cancer causing these nerves to act up?" the chiropractor asks. Having raised such specters, the chiropractor sits back and lets Mrs. Brown's fears do the rest. "Put the problem of making decisions on the patient's shoulders," the book says.
No human extremity is out of bounds for the sales pitch. "In terminal cases," the book states, "mention 'a miracle of nature has often occurred.'"
While tightening the screws, the chiropractor simultaneously keeps a sharp eye peeled for "the green light." Sooner or later, the book says, it comes.
The netted fish is then examined and x-rayed. "If in doubt about the payment or the return of the patient," the Textbook suggests, "take only the smaller X-ray on the first visit but ostensibly x-ray fully,"
When the examination is completed the doctor is told to collect for it on the spot. "That will be $27.50 for today," he is told to say. "Will that be cash or check?" "Begin writing receipt," the book continues. "Don't look up."
To take care of cases in which the chiropractor has unwisely extended credit, he can purchase from Share International a handsome wall certificate stating that he is a member of "State Credit Association," and a bookful of collection forms of graduated degrees of severity and threat, all bearing the heading "State Credit Association." No address for this Association is given on either the wall certificate or the forms, and the forms all say "MAKE YOUR PAYMENTS DIRECT TO THE CREDITOR.'' It is, of course, the chiropractor himself who mails them out.
On the patient's next visit the chiropractor, who has relaxed and is back to lathering, hands the patient a document entitled "Confidential Report of Chiropractic Examination and Recommendations," which consists of six sheets and a blue cover. Chiropractors purchase them from Share International. "Our examination has now been completed," it says. "In your particular case, we have found definite misalignments in your SPINE resulting in a disturbed nervous system. Therefore, you are a case for chiropractic."
The "Report" explains the chiropractic theory of disease, and adds that "the nervous system is the master system which controls all other systems of the entire body, including the glandular, reproductive, digestive, eliminative, respiratory, and circulatory."
"They couldn't possibly have a condition not covered here," Doctor Parker observed.
The "Report" sets forth the chiropractor's "analysis" of the patient's illness ("analysis" was a word frequently used in the seminar; the laws of some states do not permit chiropractors to "diagnose" illness), together with a recommended number of visits for adjustments, a price for the series, and an oiler of a discount if the patient pays the full sum in advance.
The Textbook adds some comments intended for the chiropractor's eyes only. "You might suggest as many adjustmebts as the patient can pay for," it says. ". . . One adjustment for each year of age of the average chronic patient over 20 years of age is a rough thumbnail guide of what people will willingly accept and pay for." However, the book observes, there is no reason for the chiropractor to be unduly modest in his expectations: "Chiropractors should keep in mind that many truck drivers, carpenters, electricians, conductors, steel workers, and radio repairmen earn more than $12,000 annually."
After the final session, members of the seminar attended a farewell dinner. There Doctor Parker gave each of us a handsome diploma from the Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation, stating that we had "completed the prescribed course of study at the Parker Chiropractic Research Seminar." (Actually, not only did we do no research, but no one was required to "complete" any course of study, since no attendance was taken at any of the sessions.) Those wishing to do so could also join the Foundation for $10 a year and receive a second item—an impressive black-and-silver membership plaque.
I talked to many chiropractors during the three days of lectures. Their response to the seminar was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Over half those in attendance wore blue badges showing that they had attended previous seminars and had come back for more. A chiropractor from Ohio told me that he had been attending the seminars since 1959; by applying Parker's methods he had built his practice from $25,000 to $100,000 a year. Another said that this was his 18th seminar. "After the first one my income went up from $2000 to $4000 a month," he said. He is also now near tile $100,000 mark. A third didn't give figures but summarized his situation with graphic simplicity. "We have gone," he said, "from rags to riches."
Ralph Lee Smith investigated and wrote about many quackery-related topics during the 1960s and 1970s. After that, he taught communications at Howard University and operated a writing and editing service. He also became interested in folk music and became a leading promoter and player of the Appalachian dulcimer. This article was originally published in the June 1968 issue of Today's Health magazine. His investigations culminated in publication of the book At Your Own Risk: The Case against Chiropractic.
This article was posted on February 24, 2018.