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What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Reflexologist

What is Reflexology?

Art13_Reflexology_SockReflexology was developed by Dr. Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat specialist, back in 1917.  Dr. Fitzgerald discovered a process of lowering pain during surgeries by having his patients apply pressure to a specific reflex (or mini map of the body) on their hands.  This led him to study and develop the vertical zones theory, the basis of reflexology. Vertical zones divide the body vertically into 10 zones, each of which corresponds to an area on the foot or hand. Shortly afterwards, his associate Dr. Joe Shelby Riley expanded on the concept by adding horizontal zones.  In the 1930's, Eunice Ingham developed the mirrored body mapping which associates foot reflexes to the organs of the body. This mapping formed the basis of the reflexology techniques in use today. Since then other maps have developed.

In a nut shell, the reflexes or maps are found on the feet, hands and outer ears.  Pressure applied to the reflexes stimulates the autonomic nervous system, allowing one's body to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems, and increase circulation. This results in relaxation and a decrease in stressors (aah, less stress)!

Is Reflexology Painful?

Pain is an individualistic perception.  Maybe a related question is -- Are your feet sensitive or are you the kind of person who enjoys a deeper touch? 

One theory relates reflex sensitivity to an indication of needing additional work, which can be a light pressure, a heavier pressure or no pressure (i.e. simply being held or touched).  Understanding when and how much pressure to apply is part of a reflexologist's education.  In the Obstetrics & Gynecology Journal, a published study by Bill Flocco indicated that he would hold the reflexes for several minutes for desired results.  Trained reflexologists can also understand the contraindications of clients with special needs such as pregnancies, diabetes, neuropathy, thrombosis, or infections.  Overall reflexology is a gentle form of body work with known benefits such as reducing stress, enhancing circulation, cleansing of toxins, and stimulating creativity and productivity.

How to Choose a Reflexologist?

Knowing how to choose a reflexologist can save you from frustration, anxiety and sometimes trauma.

Are the Practitioners in the Foot Spas Certified Reflexologists?

Art13_Reflexology_PathAsking your practitioners about their qualifications is very important and is your responsibility.  In Washington State, a licensed massage practitioner (LMP) and (in June of 2013) reflexologists are required to hang their State License of Massage or State Reflexology Registration, and their Business License visibly in their work place.  Check it out - look closely for the official state seal and effective dates - and make sure the names match.  The number of credits or study hours should be listed on their Certificate of Mastery in Reflexology.  Most of the reflexologists are proud of their training and will gladly give you any information you require to make an informed decision. 

What are State Requirements in 2013?

The State of Washington has just passed a law that requires anyone doing business as a reflexologist to register with the state, meaning verification of qualifications and passing a state exam.  The Washington Reflexology Association is working with the legislative process to set the standards for registration such as definitions, education requirement and qualifications that are in compliance with our national standards.  The standard of training has been 200 credit hours; however, new advisories are advocating that a Certificate of Mastery be increased to 300 credit hours.  The lines are blurred, but in the coming months, we will be working to make these distinctions clearer for everyone. 

What are the Limitations of a Certified Reflexologist?

There are very clear guidelines that distinguish reflexology from massage. License massage practitioners have a license to touch your body.   The area of touch allowed for reflexologists is restricted to 1/3 of the leg just below the knee or about 5 inches above the ankle, hands and only on the outer ear.  A reflexologist, if not a massage practitioner is not allowed to move their hands around in massage type motion and only to use a pressure type of action.  Why should you care if a reflexologist  does a massage like motion?  If it feels good what is the harm?  The harm is that they would not be following the state law and are not trained to massage.  If a person is not trained it leaves you venerable to injury without much recourse.  You are then accepting illegal services much like a John.   In the new law, the scopes of practice have not been totally defined. Additionally, documentation is important. Intake forms, disclaimer forms and session report forms, similar to those used by other health care providers, are commonly used, and maybe required by law.

Reflexologists do not prescribe, diagnose, change prescriptions, or analyze.    

What Can You Do if You Find Yourself in an Unsafe Situation, say someone touches you inappropriately?

Some foot spas have come to the attention of the media and the law enforcement authority as being a store front for sex trade and human trafficking.  These businesses, disguised as reflexologists and massage practitioners, are popping up all over the US, and especially in the northwest.  

Prevention is usually the first step in assuring your safety.  Before entering a business, look at how it is presented;

  • are the front windows blacked out (why would that be)
  • does the signage suggest more than reflexology
  • is it in a safe place

 If you feel safe and enter the business then notice the lobby;

  • are the practitioners a little too aggressive for your comfort level
  • can you communicate and have a complete understanding with your practitioner
  • is it well lit
  • how are the practitioners dressed, is it suggestive or business casual
  • most Reflexologists wear a sensible low or flat heeled shoe
  • is it clean

Before doing anything ask for verification of training, just simply say: "Can you tell me about your training and where is your reflexology certificate and business license?"  If not satisfied with the answers you receive, simply state that you would like to think about it and take a business card.  Do not give them any personal information or an email address.

If for instance, you are receiving a reflexology session and the practitioner touches you in an inappropriate manner;

  • above the knee, massages your neck, runs their hand up the outside of your body
  • tell them to stop what they are doing, that you don't approve of them touching you like that
  • get out of the chair or off the table
  • gather your personal items and leave right away

When you are away from the facility, contact your local authorities and report your experience.  Give them any information you have. Getting a business card can be helpful.  They may have you go in and fill out a report.  This is a report sensitive type of crime, if you do not report it nothing changes.  The authorities do not know what is going on inside the business. Certain agencies perform inspections but do not have enough eyes to see everything.  And when you stop to think that there are more humans in slavery and bondage in the US today than in the slave era, reporting is the least one can do.

Choose well and discover other interesting facts about reflexology.  Certified Master Reflexologists are professionals whose objective is to care for their clients by reducing stress in a non-invasive method.  Washington State is on the list of the nation's highest trained reflexologists. Our schools bring us national and international educators.   The state has dedicated a week in September to reflexology and there are several reflexology walks in state parks. Plus you can find a few Certified Master Reflexologists listed here in the Natural Choice Directory.

Kay Morris-Johnson is a Certified Master Reflexologist, and the Owner of Optimal-Self natural health, which serves the Central Puget Sound Area.

Photo credit: Reflexology Socks By psd, Reflexology Path By alantankenghoe