Facing Unrelenting Dogma: The True Researcher

As someone who is actively involved with alternative healing, I find that the very word alternative tends to run contrary to the word mainstream. Chiropractic has been said to be both an art and a science and issues of dogma appear to run deeply within each.

The art of chiropractic incorporates philosophy, intuition, vitalistic properties, energetic healing, and skills in accessing and treating the myriad of interwoven limitless possibilities presented by a patient. While there are science aspects of most chiropractic techniques, they generally focus on offering tools to develop and help the art of chiropractic. Often as techniques bask in the vitalistic qualities, they reject the strictures of science and see them as limiting. Many a time I have heard from instructors at technique seminars, “You have to feel it” or “Suspend belief and just try” or “The evidence for why this technique works is empirical.” Ironically, while many techniques expect you to explore without questioning they often at the same time have strong criticism for their “brethren” techniques of chiropractic.

The science of chiropractic sometimes appears to try to out do its medical counterparts. At a recent “Research Agenda Conference” in Kansas City, July 2001, ironically the keynote speaker, John A Austin, PhD from the Complementary Medicine Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, discussed, “Chiropractic: Manipulation, mind body, or energy therapy: Implications for research.” Dr. Austin’s presentation focused on encouraging chiropractic research to include and embrace the vitalistic and subtle energies. He practically chastised many of the chiropractic research community and encouraged them to explore aspects of healing traditionally conceived as located in the “art” or esoteric realm of chiropractic. At the conference, the pervading feeling was that in an attempt to maintain objectivity possibly the chiropractic research community might have “overshot its mark.”

While I was a chiropractic student and then when recently graduated I explored various avenues of research and alternative healing methods. Researchers I encountered while studying at the University of California Los Angeles medical school profoundly affected me. While not a formal student there, I was welcomed to sit in on classes by a few anatomy instructors. What fascinated me most was the dialogue I would have with these particular “researchers or instructors” and their manner of thinking. They presented to me a way of thinking different than I had ever experienced before.

These researchers or instructors were open to any form of dialogue regarding anatomy, physiology or methods of healthcare. They were genuinely interested and on some level despite their PhDs and decades of study, they were interested in chiropractic principles and its various methods of envisioning the body. Essentially, they were open to mostly anything that had some degree of logical explanation and were not threatened or annoyed by any challenge to their position. On the contrary, they appeared to be animated and humble when confronted and seemed to enjoy dialogue with the hope that maybe they might see something in a different way or even learn something.

In most of my discussions with medical / chiropractic researchers or administrators what was often consistent were comments that completely closed discussion. I remember writing a paper regarding cranial bone motion and its implications and when this information was shared, I would generally receive two discretely different responses.

One response might be, “Everyone knows the cranial bones fuse by the time someone is 20 years old, and therefore the whole concept of cranial motion is ludicrous.”

While what I consider the “true researcher” would respond, “That is very interesting, but how do you explain research that has shown cranial bones fuse by the time someone is 20 years old.“ They would then often make recommendations of papers I might want to research regarding cranial bone and suture morphology. Lastly, they would ask that I contact them if I had further information and encourage me to continue investigating cranial bone motion.

A “true researcher” in my opinion does not have to be an advocate of a particular technique or someone who performs elaborate research studies. A true researcher opens the door for possibilities and walks the line between being eternally critical while maintaining an everlasting interest in learning. As a sacro occipital technique (SOT) practitioner it is constantly challenging for me to both accept the principles of SOT while at the same time critically question those same principles. I endeavor to be cautious that I do not allow my allegiance to SOT dim my purpose of helping patients and being open to other methods and techniques of chiropractic or healing.

There is a line between having critical thinking and yet maintaining an open interest in novel or innovative concepts. There are also personal issues we must consider which anchor us to our particular dogma. Sometimes fear will weigh us down if we feel safe in our “world view” or “method of chiropractic care” or “understanding of human anatomy and physiology.” The new or novel can create a degree of discomfort and can lead to questioning of the very way we perceive or understand the world we live in. When we feel safe and yet are met with the need to revamp our view on human physiology, anatomy and diagnosis the great challenge of a “true researcher” is to remain open and interested.

At this point in history there does not seem to be a finite time that we can reach where we will have learned all that there is to learn. Novel ideas and concepts have been shunned in our history for years. . Those choosing to remain closed to new ideas met scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo or ,to some, healthcare innovators such as Andrew Still, D. D Palmer, William G. Sutherland, and Major B. DeJarnette, with ridicule and sometimes oppression. Being a “true researcher” challenges us to be constantly vigilant and not succumb to a feeling of safety or comfort but allow one to take the risk and not be “so sure” about what is known. All this while simultaneously understanding that this openness does not translate into blind acceptance of principles but instead allowing one to be eternally critical and willing to humbly learn.