Few people can boast of spending the past five decades of their lives in something they are truly passionate about. Dr. Graham Dobson’s 49 years of experience in chiropractic care is a testament to his profound understanding and commitment to the “why” of his practice. Dr. Dobson joins Dr. Kevin Pecca in the podcast to share his rich experience as an upper cervical specialist, educator, and chiropractic care provider for the New Zealand Olympic Team. Despite all of this experience, Dr. Dobson remains very humble and strives to constantly be in touch with the purpose of what he does. His story is undoubtedly an inspiration for young people setting out on their journeys in chiropractic for the first time.
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New Zealand Upper Cervical Doctor Graham Dobson
49 Years In Practice
We have Dr. Graham Dobson. He’s an upper cervical chiropractor out of New Zealand. He has been in practice for 49 years. He’s one of the best upper cervical doctors and professors. He’s a wealth of knowledge on upper cervical and chiropractic in general. He does focus on the upper cervical spine. He also incorporates other techniques to help his patients hold their adjustments and get better faster. It was a pleasure sitting down talking with Dr. Graham Dobson. I enjoyed this interview because it’s not every day you get to sit down, talk to somebody who has been perfecting their craft for as long as he has. It was a true honor to sit down with him. I think you’re going to enjoy this episode. Please welcome, Dr. Graham Dobson.
Dr. Graham Dobson, thank you so much for sitting down and joining us. You have been a Doctor of Chiropractic for many years now. I’ve heard many great things about you in the upper cervical community. It’s a pleasure to sit down with you because not only are you an upper cervical doctor, you do other techniques to help your patients hold and you’re doing some great work. I know you’ve been with a couple of Olympic teams in New Zealand. I’m excited to get your story and share your experiences with chiropractic. Dr. Graham, how are you?
I’m good, Kevin. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Graham, where are you from originally?
I’m from Auckland, New Zealand.
I hear that is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.
We’re very blessed with what we have here.
What were you into growing up?
I was into sports primarily Rugby and swimming. In my teens, I had several concussions. By the time I was in my late teens, I was getting severe migraine headaches and I wasn’t expressing health well at all. Lots of susceptibility to upper respiratory infections and flus and things like that. The medic gave up on me and said, “I don’t know what else I can do to help you.” A family friend said, “Why don’t you see my friend who’s a chiropractor?” I thought I’ve got nothing to lose so I’ll do that. It turned out that the chiropractor was a fantastic guy. He was a very good communicator and a very good technician as well. He was about early 1950s graduate of Pharma College, Pharma School in those days.
He explained a little bit what chiropractic was about, which intrigued me. He took X-rays, did an examination, and then I came back a couple of days later for my report of findings and first adjustment. The first adjustment I ever had was a toggle recoil adjustment. He explained what that was all about. On the report of findings visit, he connected with me in terms of explaining why I had lost my health. It made perfect sense to me because there were no answers coming from anybody else. Even on the second visit, I said, “This makes so much sense to me. What do I have to do to become a chiropractor?” The light bulb went on right then and there.
How was that first adjustment for you? What was your experience with that?
Nothing much at that point, but within a few days I felt like things will be getting to shift and change. Within a month, I was a different person altogether and I was only 22 or something like that.
What were you thinking about before that day as a profession? Were you thinking about going into something else?
I was looking for what I want to do with my life and I hadn’t found it.
Were there any chiropractic schools in New Zealand then that you could attend or did you have to go to the States or somewhere else?
I had a choice of going to the States, Canada or UK.
You chose Davenport, Iowa?
How was your experience in the States? Did you like it?
I loved it because I hadn’t even been out of New Zealand ever before. It was a big adventure.
Did you play Rugby for them?
I did. I played two seasons and then I thought, “This is silly. I might wreck myself and not being able to ever do anything in practice.” I retired gracefully from Rugby at that point.
What were your thoughts going through school? Were you looking at the toggle recoil technique that got you better? Did other avenues open for you that you wanted to incorporate in your practice to help people? What was your experience like at your school?
I was there to soak everything up and to learn as much as I could. My first chiropractor gave me Stevenson’s philosophy textbook to read before I went to Palmer. Although it was a difficult read for me, I read about half of it before I got there and we had some good discussions about what that was about. I felt like I had somewhat of a grounding in the Philosophy of Chiropractic before I went to Palmer. That was the thing that gripped me. What was underlying the purpose of chiropractic?
Dr. Graham, you hear that expression a lot. What does the Philosophy of Chiropractic mean for patients and for you?
It means the ‘why’ of what chiropractors do. It’s not the ‘how’ or the ‘what’ but it’s all about the purpose.
What is the ‘why’?
The ‘why’ is that chiropractic helps to set loose the innate potential of a human being or anyone with a spine. It can be animals as well. It’s all about freeing up the nervous system from interference so that the body and the mind can express itself in the way it was designed to do in the first place. Remove that interference and watch things happen.
You see a lot of miracles happen when the interference is removed. Doc, after graduation, did you head back to New Zealand to start your practice?
Yes, I did. I became an associate. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back. I thought I’d set up a little practice somewhere. On my second day back in New Zealand, I received a phone call from the busiest chiropractor in Oakland, the biggest city in New Zealand. He said, “What are your plans?” I said, “I don’t know yet.” I ended up going to work for and with him. It turned out that he was an upper cervical focused practitioner who also did some full spine techniques particularly Gonstead. It was mainly upper cervical patent analysis using thermography. It was then Neurocalograph that he used in those days. I had a lot to learn.
There were a lot of specific adjustments going on in that office.
I was also monitoring the full and the lower spine to see what changes were occurring. If anything looked like it wasn’t changing over a period of time, then he would look at adjusting lower but not until that he had given the body a decent chance to change.
How long did you end up practicing with that doctor for?
What did you do after?
In my second year with him, I started a part-time practice in another part of the country, about an hour drive away north of the city. I decided that’s where I wanted to live and bring up a family. After two years, I moved there full-time.
What’s the chiropractic culture like in New Zealand? Is it very similar to the United States?
It’s somewhat different because we don’t have insurance coverage to any great degree. We do have something called Accident Compensation, which compensates the citizens of New Zealand and even visitors to New Zealand for injuries caused by accident. It’s a no-fault insurance plan. Our chiropractors have been included in that since 1983. Incidentally, chiropractors have been a registered profession which is our way of saying licensed profession in New Zealand since 1960. Very early on, it was gaining a footing. There was still a lot of resistance from the medical field but gradually, that has diminished. I wouldn’t say it’s a happy alliance by any means just the same as anywhere else. Most practices would be cash-based with a smattering of excellent compensation cases as well. I gave up on the accident compensation deal years ago. It was way too much control and interference from them as far as how you ran your practice, way too much paperwork and that sort of thing. I’ve got cash practice for years.
Were you always able to take X-rays and images or was that difficult for you as well?
I could always take X-rays and images. In my first practice here in New Zealand, which I had for years, I had my own X-ray set up.
How important is it if you’re looking for a specific chiropractic adjustment to have the imaging? I have a lot of patients that come to my office and said, “I’ve never had a next chiropractor take an X-ray before on my neck.” How do you feel about imaging and specific chiropractic adjustments?
You’ve got to see to understand it and everybody’s different although basically spines are the same, individual differences are so important. Imaging gives you a fantastic insight into that. I wouldn’t like to practice without imaging. These days, I’ve moved along to a cone-beam CT scans for the upper cervical analysis and that’s made a huge leap forward as well. I much prefer that over X-ray.
It’s pretty incredible what you can see compared from a flat image to a 3D image and what’s going on in the person’s neck. It changed the way I practice and the results in my practice. Definitely, a lot more people are getting better. It’s amazing. Doc, can you dive into a little bit of your time with the New Zealand Olympic team? How did that even come about?
It’s an interesting story. In New Zealand, we have a lot of beaches and we have something called Surf Lifesaving. It’s an organization in New Zealand, Australia and in some other countries around the world which provides lifeguard services. It’s mostly voluntary. We lived in a beach suburb and there was a local Surf Lifesaving Club there. We got our kids involved in that and I got involved on the administrative side. Incidentally, both my kids are chiropractors. My son, Chris said, “There’s a Boat Paddling Clinic going to be held at a beach down the country, I’d love to go. Shall we go?” I said, “Yes, let’s go.” It was a father and son adventure for the weekend. The guy who was putting on the clinic was an Olympian and he was a kayak paddler. I’ve heard of him but never met him before. When he found out I was a chiropractor, he said, “I know I’ve got a problem in my neck. I’m having headaches. I’ve never had headaches in my life before. I’m off balance. I’ve lost my speed in my sports performance. Could you have a look at me?” Right there on the beach, I had a little bit of a look and I said, “You’ve got an upper cervical problem. There’s no doubt about that.”
Did you adjust him right there on the beach?
“Come to my office on Monday.” He was there. Within a month, he was up and running like he was before, probably better. He had already won Olympic medals in 1984. This was 1996. One of his other team members was a three-gold medal Olympic champion in 1984. He came to me, I’d seen that first guy for about a month and said, “I’m so impressed with what you’ve done with him, maybe you could help me. At the World Championships, I woke up on the first morning of competition and I couldn’t turn my head to the right. This was about a year later, I still can’t turn my head to the right.” We got him sorted out and then the rest of the team was under care. I never charged them. It was a delight to be involved with them. I had some wonderful experiences traveling to World Championships and around the world in two Olympic Games.
What did you need to bring with you in order to treat an Olympic team? In your office, you have the X-rays and equipment. What did you bring to the Olympics to treat those athletes?
The fact that they were already under my care, all those guys I was taken care of, I had all their records. All I needed was a portable table with a drop hippies on it. I also did some full spine work for them as I do. It was a major focus on the upper cervical spine. The reason they wanted me involved is because what they noticed was they had less injuries when they’re under regular chiropractic care. They also felt they performed better. They’re on top of things. They love that. Everybody wants an edge when you’re an elite athlete.
Do you work on any sideline? Any professional athlete football, hockey, baseball or anything, there’s a chiropractor on the sideline now. You even see them getting adjustments before, during and after the game, which it come a long way and it’s nice to see. Doc, we both know that the upper cervical spine, you see a lot of miracles happen. It’s phenomenal work. It’s humbling to be a part of but you also do full spine chiropractic, which is also amazing and you do get phenomenal results. What kind of full spine work do you do to help support the upper cervical work?
The first twenty years or so, I combined upper cervical with diversified adjusting, very selectively, also some SOT. It was mainly to do with the pelvis and the upper cervical spine and watching what happened in between. Top priority was the upper cervical, next priority was sacrum particularly because both of those areas have dural attachments as you know and that has a huge global effect on the entire spinal neural system. That was my main focus, the pelvis and the upper cervical. I’ve been watching what changes occurred as a result of doing that. Eventually, it looked like it wasn’t going to be changed by the body who was struggling then I would adjust in other areas but very conservatively. One of the biggest mistakes in chiropractic is to do too much. It’s not giving the body credit for being intelligent, which we say it is.
At what point in your practice do you start looking at the sacrum and other parts of the body to adjust?
I did that because that’s what the first chiropractor that I worked with was doing. He was my mentor for many years and I loved the way he practiced. The results and the types of people he attracted to his practice was phenomenal. I thought, why would I do anything else? In twenty years in practice, I sold the practice. I should tell you that halfway through that gig, I was on the faculty of Sherman College in South Carolina.
You sold the practice to move to South Carolina?
No, I sold it to move to LA. I leased my practice to another chiropractor about 7 or 8 years into practice then I went to Sherman. I was teaching on the faculty there. I always wanted to teach and they gave me an opportunity. I taught Upper Cervical X-ray Analysis which I had become quite expert due to my mentor and also Thermographic Analysis Patterning. I was supervising in the student clinic. I had several different administrative positions at the college. Assistant to the President first and then Dean of Clinical Science. That was a huge growth period for me in terms of the academic side of chiropractic. I learned so much, but then one of the other reasons we were there is my wife. She wanted to become a chiropractor as well, so she ran to a program. We came back to New Zealand and resumed practice where we left off before for ten years and then sold and went to join the Southern California College of Chiropractic in Los Angeles.
That’s where I went.
She went to Southern California College of Health Science. The former LACC. I was in another college called Southern California College of Chiropractic, which was previously Pasadena College. It was an attempt to establish a straight chiropractic college in California. Due to political maneuverings, it eventually had to close down. We were on a roller. It was going well and then it collapsed.
I don’t know if you remember but at that stage, we had two impressing agencies for chiropractic. There was a CCE and SCASA, which was the Straight Chiropractic Academic Standards Association. We were accredited by them along with Sherman and Pennsylvania College of Straight Chiropractic. The ACA and CCE managed to get the Department of Health Education and Welfare to rescind the accrediting agency status that we were with. We’d lost accreditation overnight. We lost students overnight. That was the end. The powers that we decided that lead one of those three colleges survive and that was Sherman College.
What upper cervical techniques do you implement in your practice?
Initially, it was HIO. What I learned from Dr. Milton Miller, my mentor, was a Neurocanal Analysis. Rather than doing the old Palmer Line Analysis in the ‘50s, they had come up with this Neurocanal Analysis, which used mainly the IDP open mouth view and also the base post area to analyze the neural canal. That’s what I used for many years. I have to say this that about a year after I graduated and came back to New Zealand, there was a New Zealand chiropractor by the name of John Duggan, who had spent six months with Dr. Blair in Lubbock, Texas. He was approved to teach Blair Technique in Australia and New Zealand. I learned from him at that very early stage. My mentor Milton Miller had the Blair upper cervical X-ray set up with the stereo view box and all that sort of thing. We had options. He would only use that with what he thought with difficult cases that he was having problems with. Otherwise, he used the Neurocanal Analysis and I did the same.
Was it difficult to have a practice, sell it, move to a different country and teach? When you came back to New Zealand, was it difficult to start up another practice because it can be a ton of work? You’ve got to be fired up and love what you’re doing. How was that second go around of starting up a practice?
It was interesting. The reason I came back to New Zealand after the Los Angeles experience, I ended up in Seattle for a couple of years. My son in the meantime had graduated from Sherman, he was back in New Zealand. He graduated in 1996. In 1997, he said, “Dad, it’s time you came back for a visit.” I’ve been away for five years at that point. I said, “It sounds like a good idea.” I was teaching postgraduate seminars throughout the state entitled Upper Cervical Specific for Full Spine Chiropractors. I was doing that. I’m having a lot of fun with that. I said, “Organize a seminar for me and I’ll come.” In the meantime while I’ve been away, that established the College of New Zealand and so I was very keen to check that out. I spent a lot of time at the college. I was here for a month and they said, “We need you here because it’s difficult to find New Zealand chiropractors with academic experience.”
I’ve had experience with two colleges by that point. I have quite a lot of experience not only in teaching and academia, but the administration and accreditation. They made me an offer and by the beginning of 1998, I was back here and I’ve been back here ever since. I didn’t practice for about a year after being back here. To answer your question, a colleague decided he wanted to sell a part-time practice very close to the college. He said, “Come in and work out a deal.” I took over his part-time practice. I had a core patient-base and it was perfect for me. I’ve been practicing and teaching part-time at the New Zealand College ever since.
How many years have you been in practice?
In 2020, 49 years.
That’s incredible because I admire anybody that’s been doing the same work for 10 to 15 years. I find it amazing because it’s up and down. There are good and bad days and anybody that sticks with it for that long. I’m sure when you look at where you started to where you are now, the amount of information and people you’ve been able to help is then truly amazing.
That’s for sure. It’s such a blessing that I’ve found chiropractic. It’s been an amazing experience for me. I’ve had so many different types of experiences professionally because I’ve been open to change and challenges. I got involved with the political side of New Zealand for a while, the Association of Zong but that’s not my thing but I did a contribution in the ‘70s and in the ‘80s and then I decided, “I’m not going to do that anymore and concentrate on academics and practice.” It’s the best of both worlds for me.
Is your story a large part of your practice why you got into chiropractic? Do you tell that a lot to your patients?
Yes, I do. I make a point of telling patients that I’m regular chiropractic here and so is my whole family. A lot of people don’t realize that. It impresses them, “You walked the talk.”
Do you ever see yourself taking a step back and removing yourself completely from teaching and doing chiropractic or you’re doing it for, God willing, as long as you can?
That’s what I want to do, keep doing both. I’ve been pulling back a little bit, so I have to pace myself a bit more these days with the advancing age and whatnot. As long as I have regular chiropractic care and I look after myself from a lifestyle point of view, I’ll be able to keep going. That’s exciting. Can I tell you one more thing?
Chiropractic these days is different for what I was doing for the first twenty years. The difference is this. When I moved to California, I got interested in Network Spinal Analysis.
I’ve had that adjustment done a couple of times. I liked that a lot.
The network care and these days it’s called network spinal. That was a big wake up call for me because I had experiences where sometimes people would cry after adjusting. I would wonder, “Did I do something to hurt them?” but they reassured me that, “No, that was not the case,” but they felt so much better for having released that emotion. The Network Spinal Analysis, whether it’s very light touch approach tended to do that to help people release more deeply their emotional state. That was a huge aid to healing. I got very interested in that and devoted quite a bit of time while I was in the States to attending the seminars and learning how to do it because it’s a totally different approach to anything else in chiropractic.
I still incorporate aspects of that in my practice. In about 2008 or 2009, I got interested in Neuro Emotional Technique. As you will know, we’re humans, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual beings. If you’re concentrating on the physical all the time, you’re missing quite a bit of the important parts. The reason I do NSA and Neuro Emotional Technique is to help people hold adjustments better. That’s why any team was designed as well. When people have repeating patterns of subluxation, there’s usually an underlying emotional or stress factor that’s holding things up. I find that the most direct way to approach that is with Neuro Emotional Technique. It is something that assesses and works directly with the physiology of emotional stress. It’s not the same as psychotherapy or psychiatry. It’s nothing like that. It’s not a talking therapy, it’s all about physiology.
Is it like a network? Is there an adjustment?
There is an adjustment but it’s quite complex. It uses the Meridian system, it uses muscle testing, it uses statements but once you understand the protocol, the patient leads you. You’re going to push the patient along. It’s about what the body-mind wants to do and what it’s ready to do, which is quite brilliant. I find that it makes a huge change to people, especially it helps people hold adjustments better which is huge.
That’s my next step. I want to get certified in Network because I’ve had it done to me a couple of times. It’s very profound and they’re barely touching you if not even touching you. When you look at it from afar, it looks a little wacky and wooey, but when it’s done on you, it is a very powerful adjustment. I feel so loose after those adjustments. I’m a big fan and I’m definitely looking to get certified in that. Do you have any advice for the students just graduating that are getting into chiropractic practices? Any advice for the people starting out?
My biggest advice is attention to detail and also philosophy. It’s your why. Never lose sight of the why of what you’re doing. That’s one of the things that I have always made sure that before I see any patients in the day, I sit quietly and tune in to why I’m doing what I’m doing. I celebrate what it is that I’m doing. If you’re on purpose and you don’t get sidetracked into people’s stories, you’re compassionate, you’re empathetic, it’s not about treating the symptoms. It’s not about treating the pain, it’s not about treating diseases. It’s about identifying where the interferences are in the spinal neural system, being able to focus and tell people what you do and why you do it. It’s about communication, being very specific, and conservative about what you do as a chiropractor.
Dr. Graham, where is your practice in New Zealand? Where can people find you, to maybe schedule an appointment or find out about you?
I practice in Auckland, New Zealand, that’s the biggest city in New Zealand. I’m listed on the Blair website. I’m listed on Upper Cervical Care website. If you Google my name, Dr. Graham Dobson, chiropractor, you’d see something online. I don’t have a website. I don’t have a landline phone. I don’t actively seek new patients.
I’m sure they find you. I definitely plan on visiting your beautiful country in the next couple of years. I would love to see what you’re doing out there and learn a little more.
It would be great if you come and you make sure you connect with me before you do that so we can host you. I’d also love to show you the New Zealand College of Chiropractic. It is a world leader now in chiropractic education. I teach the Upper Cervical course there, have done since 1998. We’re doing great things there. I even taught a couple of Blair electives at the college. We’re very much an on-purpose philosophically focused on subluxation at college.
I love that you don’t see too many of those left anymore so it’s good to see somebody still doing it. Thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate your time, sitting down and coming on the show. I would love to have you back any time.
Thank you, Dr. Kevin. It’s been enjoyable and good luck. You’re doing great work with your show and your practice, no doubt. Keep up the good work.
I appreciate that. Thank you so much.
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