Some Notes on James W. Parker, D.C.

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
November 14, 2016

James W. Parker, D.C. (1920-1997) founded and served as president of Parker College of Chiropractic and operated the largest chiropractic practice-building firm. A 1987 brochure for his Parker School of Professional Success Seminar claimed that “over 125,000 Doctors of Chiropractic, spouses and staff assistants worldwide-over two thirds of all practicing chiropractors-have attended nearly 300 Seminars more than 400,000 times. . . . Resulting in millions and millions of additional patients being served. . . . And surely resulting in at least a billion dollars of EXTRA CHIROPRACTIC EARNINGS!” Attendees received a diploma for completing “the prescribed course of study at the Parker Chiropractic Research Seminar.” In 1989, the fee for first-time chiropractors was $389 for the four-day course plus a gold-lettered plaque indicating membership in Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation.  

Parker’s basic course was built around a 335-page Textbook of Office Procedure and Practice Building for the Chiropractic Profession [1]. Parker appeared to believe that the scope of chiropractic was unlimited. The Textbook suggested that patients be offered a “free consultation” but led into an “examination” that costs them money. It suggested that “One adjustment for each year of age is a rough thumbnail guide of what people will willingly accept and pay for,” but “If in doubt about the payment or the return of the patient, take only the smaller x-rays on the first visit but ostensibly x-ray fully.”

Share International, Parker’s sales organization, sold hundreds of educational items and other practice-building aids. One was a chart alleging connections between points on the spine and organ dysfunctions. Another was a “report of findings” on which chiropractors note “subluxations” and the (large) number of visits needed to correct them. A set of cassette tapes I acquired in the late 1970s included “Sentences that Sell,” in which Parker described how chiropractors associated with him tested ideas scientifically and reported back to him how they worked. The set also included “Ways to Stimulate Referrals,” in which he told how to steer conversations to sick people. “In a casual, natural way,” patients should be asked about the health of their families, friends, and neighbors. Should any be ailing, patients should be urged to be “Good Samaritans” by telling them about “all the wonderful things” that chiropractic might do for them.

Parker’s questionable teachings were laid bare in 1969 when Ralph Lee Smith attended one of his seminars and reported what he witnessed. Smith concluded:

Perhaps the most important topic . . . 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.'” [2]

During the 1970s, for about $20, chiropractors could get copies of 107 advertisements to “guide” preparation of their own ads. Most of the ads were case histories. The instructions that accompanied them suggested: “Re-type each ad on your own stationery for presentation to the editor. This would indicate that they are your own creations, and that the cases mentioned . . . are from your own files.” [3] Sale of this advertising kit was discontinued after its instructions were exposed in Jack Anderson’s syndicated newspaper column.

Despite the questionable methods Parker espoused, he was a highly respected and integral part of the chiropractic world. He was president of the Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas, Texas, which he founded, from 1978 until about two years before his death. He lectured at many other chiropractic schools, and school officials often attended ceremonies at his seminars.

In 1981, referring mainly to Parker, Louis Sportelli, D.C., who later became chairman of the American Chiropractic Association’s board of governors, said that chiropractic could not have survived without the techniques developed by practice-builders [4].

A few years before Parker’s death, a woman who assisted Parker for 12 years and attended his seminars for 38 years, assembled a 536-page book to commemorate his achievements. The book, which contains about 3,300 photographs, measures 13″ x 14″ and weighs nearly eight pounds, stated that Parker suffered from “agonizing” chronic pain:

This anguish was due to the ankylosis of three cervical vertebrae, from an automobile accident in 1949. After escalating, often excruciating pain for the next 30-plus years, during which time he searched and researched every possible chiropractic treatment, he would eventually discover the cause was essentially due to an adhesive he was using on a partial dental plate! But in the interim, he was tested, treated and adjusted by every major technique developer in the world. . . . Yet, he continued to suffer torment such as few of us could imagine. . . .

I have been with him at state convention engagements, when he would walk the floor of his hotel suite with such racking pain that I was forced to take him to a hospital for relief. Such instances happened more often than either of us would now like to recall.

Obviously, he had to resort to some kind of pain-killing relief, or he would have capitulated under the intense agony and stress. He eventually resorted to medical treatment to somehow alleviate his consuming neck and head pain. As a result, he ultimately became addicted, for he was compelled to take increasingly stronger medication to block out the hideous pain. During those years he entered 13 hospitals in five states, as he chased one or another specialist’s recommendation. At the same time, he cringed at the thought that the AMA would somehow discover his problem, and would claim that this was a typical example of chiropractic’s failure to do what it claimed to be expert in. In fact, he later discovered that this is exactly what did happen.

Dr. Jim finally underwent a two-week hospital endurance regimen, where he was at last able to get rid of that crushing addition “cross.” Blessedly, today he is essentially free of pain, since he finally found the cause, and generally corrected it. How heartbreaking it was for him all those years to realize that, as much as he loved chiropractic, he was not able to be helped by his own profession; the stigma of that fact haunted him during all those pain-filled years. It was with an overwhelming sense of relief that he discovered that his was NOT a chiropractic health problem.

Today, this is certainly one of the reasons he insists that correct differential diagnosis is an absolute MUST in chiropractic practices. He demands this emphasis in the courses taught at Parker College [5].

I don’t see how dental adhesive could have been responsible for Parker’s symptoms, but the story suggests that he suffered for decades because his chiropractic beliefs prevented him from seeking optimal medical care.

In 1995, I observed Parker giving a talk at the Chiropractic Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C. and noted that he looked pale, frail, and chronically ill. He reportedly died of complications of heart surgery two years later [6]

  1. Parker JW. Textbook of Office Procedure and Practice Building for the Chiropractic Profession, 4th edition. Fort Worth, 1975, Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation.
  2. Smith RL. The supersalesman. In At Your Own Risk: The Case against Chiropractic. New York: Pocket Books, 1969.
  3. Barrett S. Share International’s fraudulent ad system. Chirobase, Nov 14, 2016.
  4. Sportelli L, during the Barrett/Hoppenstein/Sportelli/Wilk debate on the David Susskind TV Show, Dec 16, 1981.
  5. Springer MW. The Parker Photobiography: The Life and Works of James William Parker. Dallas, TX: Parker College of Chiropractic, 1992, pp 4-5.
  6. Parker College founder dies. Dynamic Chiropractic, Dec 1, 1997.

This article was revised on November 14, 2016.