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Dynamic Chiropractic – August 13, 2001, Vol. 19, Issue 17

How Irrational Beliefs Determine Self-Defeating Behaviors

By Edward Sullivan, DC,PhD,BCIAC,FIAMA
This article will discuss several issues that DC has raised through its columns and "We Get Letters and Email" section. These involve various irrational beliefs and self-defeating behaviors that some members of the chiropractic profession embrace and engage in. I should mention that I am both a licensed doctor of chiropractic and a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Colorado, with a PhD in health psychology and behavioral medicine.

Behavior is the natural result of our emotional state, which determines the type of behavior we engage in. Our emotional states are determined by our belief system, which can include our various thoughts, attitudes, habits and values. If you believe strongly that a person should not do something, and the person does it, you might get angry (emotion) and yell (behavior) at the person, or you might just get an upset stomach, an increased heart rate, or high blood pressure (also behavior).

There are two types of beliefs: rational and irrational. There are three types of emotions: positive, negative and emotional disturbance. Finally, there are two types of behaviors: self-enhancing and self-defeating. Rational beliefs lead to positive or negative emotions and self-enhancing behavior. Irrational beliefs lead to emotional disturbance and self-defeating behavior.1 A positive emotion would be joy. A negative emotion would be sadness. Are example of emotional disturbance would be depression, which could lead to the ultimate in self-defeat: suicide!

Some examples of irrational beliefs and self-defeating behaviors in the chiropractic profession are issues of scope of practice and professional titles. For instance, some doctors of chiropractic believe that their colleagues should not practice acupuncture, despite the fact that they do practice it, and that state law allows them to do so. Whenever we engage in "shoulds" or "should nots" about our fellow human beings and demand that reality not be the way it actually is, we are engaging in irrational beliefs, which cause us to become emotionally disturbed and act in a self-defeating manner.

In 1972, I attended my first class in acupuncture, which ultimately led to me receiving a certificate in acupuncture from the National Chinese Tai-ee Acupuncture College (established in 1836 at Fukien, China, yet taught in Seattle, Washington). This was long before there were any "accredited " lay acupuncture schools in the U.S. It can honestly be claimed that the early popularity and ultimate success of acupuncture leading to the establishment of such schools was due in large amount to the interest and involvement of thousands of doctors ochiropractic in acupuncture, and the efforts of such schools as the Tai-ee Acupuncture College. Very early on, some chiropractic colleges began to also offer training in acupuncture, such as the New York Chiropractic College, from which Dr. John Amaro received his early training in acupuncture. Ultimately, Dr. Amaro would establish the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture (IAMA) and train thousands of doctors of chiropractic in acupuncture. I took Dr. Amaro's program in acupuncture, and hold both fellow and advanced fellow (diplomate in acupuncture) titles in the IAMA. In addition, I attended the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (Seattle). I am also certified to practice acupuncture in Colorado.

Incidentally, Colorado requires that doctors of chiropractic only have 100 hours of training in acupuncture. This situation "angers" many lay acupuncturists and acupuncture leaders. It also disturbs many doctors of chiropractic who have attended one of the accredited lay schools. After all, they have attended such schools for three years and have invested a lot of money in their training only to have a colleague with one hundred hours and a lot less expense set up practice a few blocks away! How unfair! It should not be allowed. It never seems to occur to such individuals to allow the marketplace to dictate the results. That is to say, if the three-year accredited school graduate is more skilled and possesses more knowledge, then his or her success over the 100-hour-trained doctor is surely certain. Or is that the real problem it isn't certain?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), as taught in the so-called accredited schools of acupuncture, is just one system or technique of traditional Oriental medicine (TOM). TOM is broader than U.S. TCM. TCM is one technique system among many techniques, just as toggle recoil is one technique out of many in chiropractic. The lay accredited acupuncture schools teach TCM, which would be like all the chiropractic colleges teaching only Gonstead.

Dr. Amaro's program teaches "five-element" theory and a form of rydoraku theory and technique that he terms "electra meridian therapy." It is not TCM, nor does he or the IAMA claim to teach TCM. It's acupuncture; it's part of TOM, but not TCM. There are hundreds of techniques, systems and theories of TOM practiced in Asia, and to some extent in other countries, that are not taught in any of the accredited schools. TCM taught in the schools is a hybrid system invented by the Red Chinese government. It is neither the most common technique, nor theoretical system in use in mainland China among scientifically-oriented Chinese doctors. They prefer a system of formulae of acupuncture points based upon a Western medical diagnosis. This system is also ideally suited to doctors of chiropractic, who bring to acupuncture a tremendous amount of basic science and clinical knowledge that lay acupuncturists never receive in their schools.

In my opinion, lay acupuncturists who lack training in the basic sciences and Western diagnosis are, in fact, dangerous to the public health. It seems to me that an organization such as the ICA that claims to serve the public's interest by protecting it from chiropractors not qualified to practice acupuncture, would think twice before supporting unqualified laypersons in the basic and clinical sciences to practice it. It goes without saying that doctors of chiropractic who take Dr. Amaro's program pose no threat to the public health. The ICA, in my opinion, did not serve the public's interest when it lobbied with lay acupuncturists to defeat a proposal in Rhode Island that would have allowed doctors of chiropractic to add acupuncture to those adjunctive modalities they already possess. But then, at one time, the ICA was opposed to chiropractors making diagnoses!

Lay acupuncturists who oppose chiropractors doing acupuncture do so because they "believe" acupuncture belongs to them, though they make no such claims against medical doctors who practice acupuncture with or without training. Moreover, they do so despite the historic fact that DCs were among the first health professionals to utilize the modality in the U.S. Doctors of chiropractic pioneered its utilization and helped gain public acceptance of its use. Lay acupuncture organizations have joined forces with the ICA and various medical state societies to oppose DCs in legally including acupuncture within the practice of chiropractic. Such behavior on the part of the acupuncture organizations is self-defeating because it alienates the chiropractic profession and will retard its growth as an independent profession. Acupuncturists ought to follow the example of the massage therapists. Almost every state, including some of the less progressive ones like Washington (when it comes to what it will allow a doctor of chiropractic to do) allow chiropractors to perform massage on their patients. The national and state massage organizations do not oppose this, and both professions enjoy a close relationship with literally hundreds of massage therapists working in chiropractic clinics with doctors of chiropractic.

Finally, I would like to point out that chiropractic philosophy (Palmer philosophy) and TOM share numerous philosophic principles, and that both are compatible with each other in clinical practice. It should come as no surprise that the ancient Chinese acupuncturists included spinal adjusting in their practice of TOM. Such adjustments were done to correct imbalances of qi (bioenergy) within the body.

I would like to close this article with several questions for those who, without thinking, follow blindly and embrace their irrational beliefs.

  • Is chiropractic a religion?

  • Does it consist of a dogmatic philosophy that was revealed to us from on high?

  • Can philosophy be dogmatic?

  • Was B.J. Palmer our Moses, bringing down from Brady Street the commandments of chiropractic practice?

  • Who decides what chiropractic is? Science? The father of the profession? State law? The colleges? The political leaders?

  • Do we want to continue self-defeating behavior?

  • Do we want to continue to befriend the friends of our enemies, or the enemies of our friends?

Next article: What Do We Call Ourselves? An Exercise in Irrationality!


  1. Sullivan E. Behavioral Considerations in Patient Management. ACA Press, 1996.
Denver Colorado

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