Knowledgeable Chiropractic Historian: An Interview With Dr. Steve Agocs Part 1

by The Atlas of Life on August 4, 2010

steve agocs, thompson techniqueDr. Steve Agocs and I have had the chance to interact quite a bit between Facebook and email and I have always been impressed with his knowledge of chiropractic history. The guy is like a walking chiropractic encyclopedia. His interview was just as interesting, in my humble opinion.

He also wrote one of my favorite guest posts here on The Atlas of Life, which I broke up into Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I thought I would try something completely new on this site. I broke up Dr. Agoc’s interview into two parts. Today you can read the first part, and part two will go live next Wednesday.

I appreciate Dr. Agocs taking time out of his busy schedule to answers some questions for The Atlas of Life.

Dr. Brandon Harshe: What made you decide on chiropractic as a career choice?

Dr. Steve Agocs: “My choice to go into chiropractic as a career is probably a lot different from the stories your readers are used to reading about in your interviews. I never had a miracle story… My beginnings are a lot more humble! When I was a sophomore at the University of Northern Iowa, it was time to start getting pretty serious about career paths and choosing a major. I went to the counseling department and took this long test on a computer. The test took about an hour to complete and asked questions about personality, desired income, job duties, etc. At the end of the test, the computer was supposed to spit out a summary with a list of possible careers that would be a good fit, and my list had two careers: interior design and chiropractic. I was in a position to look more into the chiropractic profession, so that’s what I did. Previous to that, my only concept of chiropractic was that “it was something people in Hollywood do” but I couldn’t even have told you a single other thing about it.

I had a girlfriend at the time whose father was a chiropractor, in fact, he was a high-level administrator at Palmer College of Chiropractic. He had adjusted me a couple times here and there for various things, but I’d never had “real” chiropractic care beyond lying on the couch for a quick adjustment. I spoke to him about a career in chiropractic and he said it is a tough road if you’re not 100% dedicated, and that I should really think hard about it before jumping right in. So, I checked out every book on chiropractic that UNI’s library had (there were more than you would think at that time in 1994-1995), and bought a few that were available through bookstores. Remember, this is before the Internet as we know it today. I’ve never thought about if my choice would have been different had I been able to do my searching online instead of the old-fashioned way!

In any case, I fell in love with the philosophy and idea of chiropractic. It made perfect sense to me. The more I learned the more I thought it was a good match. Along the way I had a great experience in a chiropractor’s office in Cedar Falls, IA after injuring a sacroiliac joint while mountain biking and I was sold. On good advice from my girlfriend’s father, I finished up my teaching degree at UNI and then went straight into chiropractic college after my student teaching.”

Dr. Brandon Harshe: Where did you go to chiropractic school and why?

Dr. Steve Agocs: “I went to Palmer College of Chiropractic for a few reasons. First of all, my girlfriend’s dad, who was my first mentor in chiropractic, was assistant to the president of the college. That being said, he did not push me in any particular direction, although he was a Palmer graduate and he was obviously proud of the college he worked for. Because of a family connection on my girlfriend’s side and the fact that my own family was distributed in Iowa and Illinois, it made practical sense. Of course, Palmer is the Fountainhead and I was sold on the idea that “Palmer is to chiropractic what Sterling is to silver .” I was also lucky enough to get to attend the Centennial celebrations in 1995 and other homecoming celebrations while I was still an undergrad student. The energy, history, reputation and proximity to family added up to a pretty easy decision for me. I wrote (again, the old-fashioned way) to several other colleges, but it was clear Palmer was a good fit for me. On an almost daily basis my own students ask me about where I went to school and what I thought and I have honestly never had a single regret about Palmer or the excellent education I received from the school. We Palmer grads joke around that our blood runs purple, and that’s true for me! I was able to see Galen Price give his famous safety pin cycle lecture for the last time in public under the big tent. I heard Sid Williams go nuclear at an after-hours event. Fred Barge was one of my philosophy teachers… It was an incredible experience and I am honored to have been taught by true giants in the profession, most of whom are now gone.”

Dr. Brandon Harshe: How did you get into teaching Thompson technique? How is that going?

Dr. Steve Agocs: “My first experience with chiropractic in a real office was, in retrospect, on a Zenith 400-series Thompson table. That was for my low back or SIJ problem I got from mountain biking. My back had been killing me for a week and just getting worse, so I finally bit the bullet and actually paid for an adjustment! He didn’t even charge me for an exam, but $30 was a lot of money to a college kid! Anyway, he got me on the table and it was, “Wham! Clunk! Wham! Sproing! Boom!” from the table and he got me up and my back hurt even worse, so he put me back down, did a little more adjusting, and sent me home. I remember being really angry and thinking I was going to change my decision about being a chiropractor because “it didn’t work” and I still felt bad the rest of the day. I will never forget how I was cussing that doctor out and how I felt like I got ripped off, which is why I spend so much time educating patients about what to expect after their adjustments in my practice. Anyway, the next day I woke up 95% better and I felt pretty stupid, happy but stupid!

At the time I was in school, from 1997-2000, Palmer’s core technique instruction (not including upper cervical) was 80% Gonstead, 17% Diversified (with a Gonstead lean) and 3% Thompson Technique. The extent of our Thompson training was to learn what the knobs and levers on the table does, from a diagram, and we learned something about leg checks, but my pelvic technique teacher said, “Don’t do leg checks because cowboys step in horse$%&! all day long” (he was an east Colorado cowboy). Because our professors were “Gondroids” and it was a mark of passage to be a really good Gonstead adjuster, I drank the Gonstead Kool-Aid and relegated everything else to “things people do if they can’t give a real adjustment.” I took Activator as an elective just so I could have a low-force technique if I really needed it. I’m glad I was a bit closed-minded in school, actually, because I walked out of there with really good adjusting skills and with a clear idea of what to do, so when I started learning other techniques they all built off that Gonstead backbone. If you’re a good Gonstead adjuster, everything else will be pretty easy, in my opinion.

Dr. Rob Jackson taught Thompson Technique at my first Michigan Chiropractic Society convention when I was practicing, and I thought it was really cool and a nice addition to what I was already doing. I have been trained by Dr. Jackson, Dr. Wayne Zemelka, Dr. Terry Brady, Dr. Jim Thompson and Dr. John Minardi. I started to collect some videos and manuals of Thompson’s, and in practice it was just an easy and effective way of adjusting the pelvis (to this day I am still a Gonstead guy when it comes to necks!) and if the adjustment was easy on the patient, easy on me, and it worked, then it seemed like a good choice! One of my goals had been to become certified as a Thompson teacher and teach post-graduate seminars. When I sold my practice and went to teach at Cleveland Chiropractic College the current Thompson instructor saw how fired up I was about it and he gave me the class, which has proven to be the most popular elective on campus. In 2009 I achieved my dream of teaching post-grad, after I was recruited by Foot Levelers to be a member of their speakers’ bureau, and I teach Thompson Technique all over the country and even internationally for them, too. So, it’s going pretty good! This year I’ve taught (or am scheduled to teach) in Amsterdam, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, San Diego, Reno, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Austin, and more. I don’t get too many opportunities to get much local culture in, but it’s still a lot of fun and very rewarding.”

Dr. Brandon Harshe: How has teaching Thompson technique helped you in your own practice?

Dr. Steve Agocs: “Teaching technique makes you do things the right way, all the time. What I’ve always loved about Thompson Technique is that it fits easily into other techniques, so it is more of a backbone to build from that it is something I rigidly adhere to. I mean, I do it the right way, but it’s not all I do. Clay Thompson knew 100 ways to adjust everything in the body, and he used them all, so I take the same type of approach. I’ve had to learn a lot of biomechanics to explain why, not just how, in the technique, so that has been helpful, and I’m making connections between pelvic problems and, for example, the feet, that no one has ever talked about in that technique and that has helped me with some tough cases, so it has been great. The other side of this question is that it is important to note that I always have a student observing me in my practice, so I am never alone and I can never get lazy, which is good. The important thing about technique is to understand what you’re doing biomechanically so you can choose the right adjustment for that patient at that time and not simply be locked into a bunch of rules. In a given week I’ll use lots of Thompson, Gonstead and Diversified, a little instrument adjusting, a little Toggle Recoil upper cervical, some Graston Technique and a bit of other specific soft tissue techniques, some SOT and even a bit of AK when the time calls for it. Life is too short to be a one trick pony, but you also have to master everything you do and not just be a hobbyist when it comes to technique.