A Talk With
Dr. Robert Brooks
by Michael Thomas, D.C.
You seem to live and breathe chiropractic.
(laughter). Chiropractic is a natural for me. Chiropractic is embedded in what I consider to be a non-interference philosophy. At the age of four and a half, my mother told me I had the power of life inside and that I knew what was right for me, and no one else did. I was to listen to my inner guidance rather than listening to anything or anyone else, not even my parents.
So my entire youth was created out of listening to my own truth. When I was seventeen years old, I met a chiropractor who said that there was the power of life inside the human body. He told me that misalignment of the spine interfered with parts of the body, which then didnâ€™t work correctly, and people got sick. When you corrected the spine, it set the power of life free and people got well. This very simple truth wound up manifesting a destiny for me in chiropractic.
How did you decide to become a chiropractor?
I knew at that moment, at that first encounter, when that chiropractor delivered the message to me, exactly what I was going to do with my life. I asked him then, â€œWhat do I do to become one?â€. In 1963, there were no prerequisites for chiropractic school, so I called Palmer College of Chiropractic and they sent me an information packet. I filled in the application and sent it back, and was accepted. Before making the decision to go to chiropractic school, my plans were to attend Oklahoma State University to pursue a career in mathematics. In April of 1963, I turned seventeen, in May I graduated from high school, in June I met the chiropractor, and in October I matriculated at Palmer.
What was your Palmer experience like?
At seventeen, I was quite frankly, still wet behind the ears. Being seven hundred miles from home was the furthest Iâ€™d ever slept from my own bed. In the first two years at Palmer I was busy taking things seriously, pursuing the information on how the human body worked, embracing the academic life. These things were very vital to me. But then something happened, and I discovered that being with people and having relationships with other people was perhaps as important, if not more important than the academic side of college.
So the last two years of Palmer College, were more of a focus in people and relationships than were the first two. Half way through Palmer, I was actually quite disappointed in the number of people who were there to become doctors so they could make money. They werenâ€™t there from a vision of what is possible with chiropractic. With that discouragement, I left Palmer, came home, and went to the University of Tulsa for two years and took pre-med courses. The people in pre-med were so much more insane than the people in chiropractic that I went back to chiropractic school.
My last two years of chiropractic school were a lot of fun and it took me three years to complete the two. At the end of that time, I graduated from Palmer at the ripe old age of twenty-four. I was ready to meet the world and practice chiropractic.
How did you begin your chiropractic career?
When I graduated from Palmer in 1970, I had expected to come home and work with the man who had introduced me to chiropractic. When I got home and talked with him, I discovered that this was not his idea at all. So I spent the first several months after my graduation from Palmer working as a carpenter and building houses. At one point, I went with my father on a vacation tour of the Holy Land. We went to Rome, Athens, Cairo, and Jerusalem and then to the Dead Sea. It was actually in Jerusalem while following the Stations of the Cross that I became inspired, as I considered how much one man had been able to do with his life.
So I came home to Oklahoma and began the process of opening my own office. The first office I opened was in a downtown area of Tulsa, a city of about 350,000 people. It had no parking. It was on a street corner. There were a lot of people downtown everyday, but it was not very accessible. After nine months in that office, the busiest day Iâ€™d had was twelve patients. I knew it would take another five years just to begin to make a living. I was not willing to do that.
In a moment of reflection, I was inspired to go to the little town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I went there and opened a â€œfull-spineâ€ practice, or what I now call a â€œsegmentalâ€ practice. I saw ten new patients the first day. Over the next thirty days, my practice grew until I was seeing one hundred patient visits per day. Over the next 60 to 90 days, I was seeing over one hundred and fifty patient visits per day doing segmental adjusting. I did that for the first three years of my practice life.
Quite frankly, it was a great experience for me. A lot of people received tremendous results. A lot of sick people were relieved, and got well. But the problem I had with that practice was that I couldnâ€™t imagine the human spine being made to need to be adjusted once a week or once a month for the rest of the personâ€™s life. I thought there must be some way to correct the spine. It just couldnâ€™t need to be adjusted over and over for the rest of the patientâ€™s life. Of course those ideas were generated from reading B.J. Palmerâ€™s Green Books. I had bought a set of Green Books while I was still in school. The Palmer bookstore had been trying to get rid of the books after B.J.â€™s death. I had thought theyâ€™d look good in my library someday. Once in practice though, I had begun opening and reading them. Reading those green books, really did amplify my awareness of the principles of universal and innate intelligence, and of structural interference, but also of the notion that structural interference could respond to principles of engineering and mathematics and measurement.
So you began to look for another way to work?
After three years of that â€œsegmentalâ€ practice, I actually closed it and took an eighteen-month sabbatical. I took every technique course that I could find. I went to the different colleges. I went through their libraries. I found their books on chiropractic, and spinal care of any kind. I took a look at lots and lots of different procedures that were available to correct the spine and wound up going through the upper cervical procedures too.
I started with Pettibon, and HIO, then Blair, and finally, NUCCA. When I got to NUCCA, things started to make sense. I canâ€™t tell you though, that they made sense right away. But the â€œpictureâ€ from the information I received at my first NUCCA class in 1977 gave me a notion that if Dr. Gregory was correct about how a spine can subluxate, and how itâ€™s corrected, it made everyone else wrong. I had to sit with that concept for several years before I finally comprehended the “bignessâ€ of his picture. He told us that when the entire spine is subluxated, it is locked down by C1. He explained that the relationships between all the bones were altered because they move as a mechanical system in an integrated fashion. Because of that, if you didnâ€™t correct the entire spine back to normal position, you would need to adjust or manipulate the relationship between the different segments of the spine for the rest of the personâ€™s life.
So the realization of that idea is what made you stay with the NUCCA work?
Well, thatâ€™s another story altogether! I happen to be a bit of a skeptic. I mean in the sense of the philosophical school started by Aristotle, A skeptic is someone who actually takes a look or observes what is in their reality. Some of it is true to them, and some of it is not. A skeptic is simply a person who is discerning whether or not the information thatâ€™s presented is true to them. So I took on Dr. Gregoryâ€™s work as a bit of a skeptic in the beginning. I spent the first several years saying that â€œthis may be right, and it may notâ€. So, I spent my first four or five years (almost in the sense of attempting to prove him wrong), taking pre x-rays, making adjustments, taking post x-rays, and examining the results.
What do you most remember about Dr. Gregory?
One of my favorite experiences was back in that first 1977 class that I took. I had already been to a lot of seminars. I had learned a lot of things. I had examined a tremendous amount of information by the time I went to my first NUCCA seminar. I can remember asking Dr. Gregory a question about how the cervical spine functioned, and his answer to me was, â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ It was the first place I had been that anyone had had the integrity and the candor to quite frankly say , â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€. Most of the people I had studied with, if they didnâ€™t have the answer, would use logic, and usually make up an answer that had nothing to do with their observations or experiences.
My experience with Dr. Gregory was that he knew what he knew, and he knew what he didnâ€™t know. He was very clear about the two. His compassion, his passion, and his integrity for the work that he did, combined with the benefit that it had for humanity was very apparent to me. He was almost unmovable in his convictions about what he knew and what he didnâ€™t know.
Who else has been important to you in your growth in chiropractic?
There have been three giants for me in chiropractic. B.J. Palmer of course, was the first one. His contributions to what Iâ€™m going to call the â€œevolution of lifeâ€ and his investigation into the depths of how life â€œworksâ€, had great impact on me. He examined what is behind this life of ours. At some point most of us realize that weâ€™re only going to know so much about how life works. The rest of it is a stepping into the unknown.
B.J. Palmer had the ability to integrate the spiritual nature of life -what we in chiropractic call universal intelligence- (and which in computer language is simply information), and innate intelligence (which is that part of the universal that is inside us), into â€œenergyâ€ which is again, in computer language, power. Finally, he integrated this synthesis into the materialization of the manifest world. He was able to describe the interface between our consciousness (or our innate awareness), and the outer world. Intelligence, force and matter in B.J.â€™s world has become the information that manifests itself on the computer screen as information, energy and materialization. B.J. Palmer was, in my life, a giant who created that awareness for me. He illuminated the language of traditional spirituality, of religion, in such a way that it enhanced my grasp of my own personal spirituality.
The second mentor in my life, the second giant who made a contribution toward me, was Dr. Sid Williams. What Sid Williams did for me, was that he chose to live his own life regardless of the outcome. Even when he was committed to something in the world, he was really only committed to his own truth. Because of his commitment to his own truth, heâ€™s been able to accomplish a great deal, without losing sight of the possibilities of the evolution of life.
Dr. Gregory was my third. I spent several yearsâ€¦ in fact, from 1977 until today, I have actually only missed one NUCCA class. And I attended all of the NUCCA classes that Dr. Gregory presented until his death. I have been a part of the organizational structure of NUCCA since 1979.
You have also been very involved with Palmer and the Alumni Association.
It has been my desire to influence chiropractic with the ability to correct the subluxated spine. Our profession is replete with belief systems, believing some things that donâ€™t exist, believing some things that do exist, and actually arming ourselves against each other if we violate each otherâ€™s beliefs. My time at Palmer was an effort to make a contribution toward breaking down some of those barriers. I want to interest people in what I would call, from Dr. Gregory, a â€œvoice of reasonâ€ in a chiropractic profession that has a tendency to go â€œmadâ€.
Students are very important to you.
Yes. Palmer College has been very important to me and through my thirty years of practice there have been 42 of my patients who have become chiropractors. My desire since the early 80â€™s has been to not only take care of as many people as I possibly can, but to get other people taking care of people as well. So it has been very important to me to recruit students into chiropractic and to look at the clinical education of the chiropractor. I love to take a look at the views and paradigms that chiropractic students have about their profession and how they are going to be taking care of the people they see as patients in their practice. Palmer College has been a great open door for me to be able to be a contribution and to give back from my experience of thirty years of practice.
Youâ€™ve been conducting your own seminars.
Early on in NUCCA, I saw the need for us to investigate the subluxated spine, and to actually do more research, because I felt like we didnâ€™t have all the answers. We were still in the process of figuring out what we needed to do to correct the subluxated spine. And of course, some of them correct back to normal fairly easily. But there were some that would still be problem cases. We just simply didnâ€™t know yet how they worked and we needed to know what to do to handle them.
â€œHow is what we are doing affecting the nervous system?â€ â€œHow is it affecting the physiology of the body?â€ â€œIf its affecting the physiology then what conditions or diseases or even symptomatic pictures will we be best at addressing for the people that we serve?â€ The need to investigate all of those areas became very clear to me. I also knew that without the ability to measure the subluxation and determine its correction (with pre and post X-rays) that all of the other research on the effects of the subluxated spine and itâ€™s correction were going to receive only mixed results. All of the procedures or techniques correct some of the spines some of the time. They just donâ€™t know when.
I also saw a need for people to be able to correct the subluxated spine. I saw chiropractors working on it and working on it but maybe not ever getting it completely corrected. So I made a choice back in the early eighties, between being a researcher, and being someone who would recruit people into our work. I have no idea how many people, since the early eighties, I have actually encouraged to attend a NUCCA conference and educational program, but I am sure the number is over two or three hundred. I would constantly go to the colleges to talk with people about the possibilities of correcting the entire spine rather than just the relationship from one bone to another. I would encourage them to take a look at NUCCA as a body of information.
My destiny might be better served by bringing people into the work rather than actually investigating it or even teaching it myself. NUCCA has for years, been the very best place to come and learn how to correct the upper cervical spine. Teaching our work was a niche that has been completely filled by doctors who are certified. So I chose some years ago not to take on a teaching role with NUCCA. I actually wrote and passed all three parts of the certification process in 1989, but then chose not to become certified to become a teacher. I had the idea that if I were a certified instructor for NUCCA, it might limit what I was able to say to people in the colleges to actually get them to come to our programs. That was a very conscious choice.
Again, in the last two years I have actually reversed that decision and am now going through the certification process again. This time Iâ€™m working on NUCCA certification as a way of being able to speak people about our organization and our procedures.
With thirty years of practice experience, I started teaching a class to chiropractic students and chiropractors called, â€œTaking Care of Peopleâ€ in 1996. The seminar that I teach is actually the office procedure, patient management, patient education, and office philosophy aspects of the chiropractic practice. I have trained twenty-eight chiropractic associates and in thirty years, I have seen all kinds of people come into the work and develop through all kinds of stages. I have functioned in every possible context for practice, from having a donation system, to having monthly fees, having case fees, having fees per visit, having an introductory fee or a new patient fee and then follow-up fees. In my relationship with my associates I have learned how to help doctors establish fees and to enroll patients into a practice. My class is concerned with the office procedures and office management for people who would like to take on the correction of the entire spine with the NUCCA procedure. In 1999 alone, I had 290 chiropractic students go through my class.
What direction is NUCCA moving in?
Iâ€™ve been on the NUCCA Board now through three different administrations. Obviously, when Dr. Gregory was alive, NUCCA was very much a monarchy. Dr. Gregory was however, so far ahead of the rest of us that it was very easy to follow the dictums and directives of the â€œmonarchâ€. He had so much integrity and was just simply not willing to compromise his convictions. He was a wonderful benevolent leader for NUCCA.
At the loss of a monarch, there are things that happen organizationally. Usually the people that were the closest to that leader will take over the organization for a period of time. When NUCCA made its transition after Dr. Gregoryâ€™s death, we had a number of people who were trying to maintain the heritage and tradition of the organization. Those people were keeping NUCCA to its standard and to itâ€™s roots. They did an incredible job of doing that.
NUCCA has been the educational branch of our work. NUCCRA has been the research branch. The certified doctors have now become the actual teaching branch of our procedure. The future of NUCCA is for us to continue to find better ways to teach people how to detect and correct the subluxated spine. Our heritage from Dr. Gregory of observation, measurement, and reason, as a way to address the subluxated spine are still the very cornerstones of the foundation of who we are. So our task is to maintain those principles of observation, measurement, and reason, as a way of looking at the subluxated spine. The NUCCA procedures offer a way of measuring the subluxated spine, of determining the correction to be made, and then making that correction, making the post x-ray , making that measurement , and then reasoning what has occurred from that correction, and if that correction is complete, then leaving it alone. Then if its not complete, if its only a reduction, then to again, reason what needs to be done to get a better reduction or a complete correction. To do that, to take a post x-ray, and to observe it, measure it, and to reason it out again. We are constantly enhancing our ability to detect and correct the subluxated spine.
I see NUCCA taking on new ways of teaching. There are several styles of learning which require several styles of teaching. Our work takes a special blend of intelligence and almost athletic ability to perform. There may be people with a great deal of athletic ability to perform the adjustment who may struggle with taking on the analysis: the x-ray taking, the x-ray analysis, patient positioning for the adjustment, the actual adjustment itself, the post x-ray taking, analysis and reasoning. There may be people who have a little more trouble performing the act than actually figuring out what theyâ€™re doing, and there may be people who are able to figure out what theyâ€™re doing incredibly and have a little bit more trouble performing the act.. I see the future of NUCCA as an organization that is going to address both of those concerns. We have thirty people right now in the certification program, the most weâ€™ve ever had. So people are not only interested in doing our work now, but are also interested in teaching it.
We recently had a planning session for NUCCRA in which we reorganized how NUCCRA is going to function. NUCCRA, as the research branch, now has a research director, Jim Palmer. Heâ€™s been with our organization in a consulting capacity for a number of years and he will now take on the task of coordinating all of the research to be done, how its published, and how we get it out to our certified doctors, and instructors.
I am very excited about the publishing of a textbook to introduce people to our work. We can put this text on the shelves of libraries in our own profession so that people who are looking for information about what chiropractic is and whatâ€™s possible, will have access to our tremendous body of knowledge. We still represent such a small proportion of chiropractic that every thing we can do to get information out is extremely important. This textbook is a very big part of that.
NUCCA has also recently had a planning session. At the NUCCA planning session, it was very important for NUCCA to get clear about its identity, about who we are, about our heritage from Dr. Gregory, about how we see chiropractic and how we see our relationship to the people we serve. It is also important for us in NUCCA to begin to take a look at the possibility of extraordinary growth. We are on the verge of having hundreds of people go through our educational process and it is necessary for us to take a look at how to take care of these people who come through.
We are looking at a number of different aspects regarding how to support our members and how to facilitate learning. NUCCA is now also endowed with money that at some point will become available as scholarships for educational programs. It may become available for practice loans for chiropractors coming out of school to start a practice. We may be able to use that endowment money for resources that our members will be able to access in their process of becoming NUCCA chiropractors. We also are creating an educational fund within NUCCA that is going to create a way for corporations, individuals, and our own members to make contributions to our organization that are tax deductible. We hope to make NUCCA a part of estate planning, and to actually then create the resources than that weâ€™re going to need to continue to grow and take care of the doctors and students that we educate and bring along into the practice of chiropractic.
Iâ€™m very optimistic right now about the future of NUCCA and NUCCRA, about an opening for us to be able to bring new ideas into the work. Weâ€™re creating an â€œopen forumâ€ at the NUCCA conferences where people will be able to simply throw ideas out with the notion that all of us are making discoveries in this work, and that some of those discoveries need to be shared with everybody else. There may come a time where the â€œWeâ€™ve already figured it out and this is the way it is,â€ attitude will be replaced with â€œLetâ€™s continue to investigate it, What are you seeing?â€ â€œThis is what Iâ€™m seeing.â€ So the â€œopen forumâ€ is going to be a great way for us to actually develop with the group mind faster than any individual mind can develop on its own. Any of the ideas from the open forum with merit will be supported by research (through observation, measurement, and reason). This research done by our certified Doctors will be published through NUCCRA, regardless of what those findings are. We need to know not only what works, we need to know what doesnâ€™t work, as well. So if we try something and it doesnâ€™t work, its just as important to publish that as it is to publish what does work.
Whatâ€™s your own vision for NUCCA?
I see NUCCA as an organization composed of chiropractors, chiropractic students, and of patients. Patients are going to be a very vital part of our future. To have patients who are supportive members of our organization so that our education and our research can actually then be branched into a way to let the people know world wide about the value of our service and what it can actually mean in their lives. We must then provide doctors to take care of them. This will become a very important part of our future.
My own vision for NUCCA is to make sure that NUCCA is financially secure. We must have the money and the resources for NUCCA to continue regardless of who our leaders are. It is also my personal vision for NUCCA to create an architecture or framework for unlimited growth for an organizational structure that will function seamlessly and will actually grow organically. It is necessary to maintain the conviction of Dr. Gregory, to see our organization as a group of determined individuals staying true to themselves but working toward the common goal of detecting and correcting the subluxated spine. I have heard Dr. Gregory say: â€œit doesnâ€™t make any difference how you correct the subluxation as long as it gets corrected.â€
I also see an organization that stays true to its heritage but transforms itself to the rapid changes in todayâ€™s world. We will have new technology, fewer X-rays, more effective biomechanics and improved teaching methods. We will become known worldwide and will be the procedure of choice for many patients and doctors. I see our organization ready for these challenges and getting stronger each year as we embrace diversity and acceptance and tolerance.
What do you want to do in the future?
I want to create a Chiropractic Institute. After taking a one-year sabbatical from January first until December thirty first of 1999, I have returned to practice with a renewed commitment to chiropractic and to NUCCA. I as setting up a group practice, a model for our future. The group will be twenty chiropractors providing patient care and each one will be training at least one intern. Six chiropractors have already agreed to come and by the end of the year five of us will be actively practicing. The economics of the group practice will allow all of us to be more profitable as individuals and to have the resources collectively to reach more people, to conduct and publish research and to make a huge impact on chiropractic.
The Institute will be a facility where weâ€™ll provide not only the correction of the subluxated spine but also some diagnostics such as MRI, video-fluoroscopy, EMG, and the instrumentation necessary to verify and validate the effects of the subluxated spine. We will continue to pioneer technology and procedures to better detect and correct the atlas subluxation complex. As a group we will have the staff and resources to publish our findings about what weâ€™re discovering on a day to day basis. We will be publishing case studies and research papers to the health care community and patient testimonials to the public.
I will continue to teach seminars for the office procedure and patient relationship part of the NUCCA practice. I will also continue to support NUCCA and NUCCRA in any way that I am needed.
In closing I want to mention that chiropractic has been very good to me. I am really grateful for having found chiropractic, and Iâ€™m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be of service to my fellow man. I canâ€™t think of anything that I would rather do than to help another person by removing the interference from their life, which was created by the subluxated spine. Sometimes we forget the very value of what we do in our own lives and in the lives of the people we touch. Sometimes its easy to just correct the subluxated spine and forget about the story of that human being that we just touched and how significant a difference it is going to make in that personâ€™s life. So with my focus on getting an Institute for Spinal Care up and running I would like to say that Iâ€™m not going to forget the importance of what we do for every person we adjust.
Thank you Dr. Brooks.