Reflexologists base their work on the theory that reflexes, specific points on the hands and feet, correspond to specific points on other parts of the body. They apply pressure to the feet or hands of their clients in order to affect the areas of the body that correspond to the areas that they are manipulating. Reflexologists believe that their work promotes overall good health, helps clients relax, and speeds the healing process.
History of Reflexologist Career
Reflexology—or something similar to it—was practiced thousands of years ago. More than 4,000 years ago, the Chinese learned that foot massage was a useful adjunct to the practice of acupuncture. Many modern practitioners of reflexology believe that reflexology utilizes the principles on which acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine are based. A 4,000-year-old fresco that appears in the tomb of Ankhmahor, physician to a pharaoh, in the Egyptian city of Saqqara depicts the practice of foot massage. In North America, the Cherokee people have emphasized the importance of the feet in health, partly because it is through the feet that human beings connect with the earth. Zone theory, which provides a theoretical basis for reflexology, existed in Europe as early as the 1500s.
Although reflexology is an ancient practice, its modern form originated in the early 20th century. William Fitzgerald, a Connecticut-based physician who was an ear, nose, and throat specialist, revived the practice of reflexology in the West in 1913, when he found that applying pressure to a patient’s hands or feet just before surgery decreased the level of pain experienced by the patient. In 1917, Fitzgerald wrote Zone Therapy, or Relieving Pain at Home, which described his work. Fitzgerald believed that “bioelectrical energy” flows from points in the feet or hands to specific points elsewhere in the body, and he thought that applying tourniquets and various instruments to the feet or hands enhanced the flow of energy. He set out to map the flow of that energy, and in the process he set up correspondences between areas on the feet or hands and areas throughout the body.
The next important figure in modern reflexology, Eunice Ingham, was a physiotherapist who had worked with Joseph Shelby Riley, a follower of William Fitzgerald. Riley had decided against using instruments to manipulate the feet and hands, opting to use his hands instead. Ingham practiced and taught extensively, mapped the correspondences between the reflexes and the parts of the body, and wrote books chronicling her work with her patients, which helped to promote the field of reflexology. She went on to found the organization now known as the International Institute of Reflexology (IIR), which continues to promote the Original Ingham Method of Reflexology. Ultimately, Ingham became known as the mother of modern reflexology. Her students have played major roles in spreading reflexology throughout the world.
The Job of Reflexologists
Reflexologists believe that the standing human body is divided vertically into 10 zones, five zones on each side of the imaginary vertical line that divides the body in two. On both sides, the zone closest to the middle is zone one, while the zone farthest from the middle is zone five. These zones also appear on the hands and feet. Reflexologists believe that by massaging a spot in a zone on the foot, they can stimulate a particular area in the corresponding zone of the body. By massaging the reflex in the middle of the big toe, for example, a reflexologist attempts to affect the pituitary gland, which is the corresponding body part.
Reflexologists also believe that their ministrations help their clients in two other ways. First, they believe that their treatments reduce the amount of lactic acid in the feet. Lactic acid is a natural waste product of the metabolic process, and its presence in large quantities is unhealthful. Second, they believe that their treatments break up calcium crystals that have built up in the nerve endings of the feet. It is their theory that the presence of these crystals inhibits the flow of energy, which is increased when the crystals are removed. Reflexologists also emphasize that their techniques improve circulation and promote relaxation.
It is worth noting that modern science has not validated the theoretical basis of reflexology, which is even less well accepted in the scientific world than are some other alternative therapies. Yet it is also worth noting that some therapies whose underlying theories have not been validated by science have been shown to be effective. Relatively few scientific studies of reflexology have been completed, but much research is underway at present, and it is likely that reflexology will be better understood in the near future.
An initial visit to a reflexologist generally begins with the practitioner asking the client questions about his or her overall health, medical problems, and the reason for the visit. The reflexologist makes the client comfortable and begins the examination and treatment.
Although most reflexologists, such as the followers of Eunice Ingham, work on their clients’ feet or hands with their hands, some prefer to use instruments. In either case, the reflexologist works on the feet and looks for sore spots, which are thought to indicate illness or other problems in the corresponding part of the body. On occasion, the problem will not be manifested in the corresponding organ or part of the body but will instead be manifested elsewhere within the zone. Usually, the reflexologist will spend more time on the sore spots than on other parts of the foot. On the basis of information provided by the client and information obtained by the reflexologist during the examination, the reflexologist will recommend a course of treatment that is appropriate for the client’s physical condition. In some cases, such as those of extreme illness, the reflexologist may ask the client to check with his or her physician to determine whether the treatment may be in conflict with the physician’s course of treatment. Most reflexologists will not treat a client who has a fever. In addition, because reflexology treatments tend to enhance circulation, it is sometimes necessary for a client who is taking medication to decrease the dosage, on the advice of a doctor, to compensate for the increased circulation and the resulting increased effectiveness of the medication.
One of the most important aspects of the reflexologist’s skill is knowing exactly how much pressure to apply to a person’s feet. The pressure required for a large, healthy adult, for example, would be too much for a young child or a baby. Different foot shapes and weights may also require different levels of pressure. The practitioner must also know how long to work on the foot, since the benefits of the treatment may be offset if the treatment lasts too long. In her book Reflexology Today, Doreen E. Bayly, one of Ingham’s students, recalled that Ingham once told her: “If you work on the reflex too long, you are undoing the good you have done.” Ingham recommended 30-minute sessions, but most modern reflexologists conduct 45-minute or 60-minute sessions unless the client’s condition dictates otherwise.
Most reflexologists work primarily on feet, but some work on the hands or even the ears. If a foot has been injured or amputated, it is acceptable to work on the hands. For the most part, reflexologists work on the feet because the feet are so sensitive. In addition, feet that are encased in shoes during most of the day typically require more attention than hands do. Furthermore, the feet, because of their size, are easier to manipulate. It is somewhat more difficult to find the reflexes on the hands.
Reflexologist Career Requirements
Because the practice of reflexology involves utilizing the correspondences between reflexes and the various parts of the body, a student who has some knowledge of medicine and anatomy will have an advantage. Study biology, chemistry, and health—anything that relates to the medical sciences. Since reflexologists must make their clients comfortable and gain their trust, some study of psychology may be useful. You might also investigate areas of bodywork and alternative medicine that are not taught in school. If you have some knowledge or practical skill in some area of massage (shiatsu or Swedish massage, for example), you will have a head start, especially since some states require reflexologists to be licensed massage therapists.
The single most important part of a reflexologist’s training is the completion of a rigorous course of study and practice, such as that provided by the IIR. Many courses are available, and they range from one-day sessions designed to train people to work on themselves or their partners to comprehensive courses that require a commitment of nine months or longer on the part of the student. Naturally, if you wish to practice professionally you should select a comprehensive course. Correspondence courses are available, but any reputable correspondence course will require you to complete a required number of hours of supervised, hands-on work. Some aspects of the technique must be demonstrated, not simply read, especially concerning the amount of pressure that the reflexologist should apply to different kinds of feet. Many reflexologists offer services other than reflexology, and you may wish to also train in other kinds of massage, aromatherapy, or another kind of bodywork. Such training may increase the likelihood that you will make a decent living, especially at the beginning of your career.
Certification or Licensing
In some states, such as North Dakota, a reflexologist who has completed a course given by a reputable school of reflexology can be licensed specifically as a reflexologist. In most states, however, reflexologists are subject to the laws that govern massage therapists. That often means that you must complete a state-certified course in massage before being licensed to practice reflexology. In many cases, reflexologists are subject to laws that are designed to regulate massage parlors. In some places, these laws require you to be subjected to disease testing and walk-in inspections by police. It is common for those who are medical doctors or licensed cosmetologists to be exempt from massage-licensing regulations. Because there is such wide variation in the law, anyone who wishes to practice reflexology should carefully study state and local regulations before setting up shop.
It is recommended that you enroll in a course that requires a substantial number of hours of training and certifies you upon graduation. If you are at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or its equivalent, have completed a course that requires at least 110 hours of training, and have at least 90 documented postgraduate reflexology sessions, you can apply to be tested by the American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB), which was created in 1991. The organization is designed to promote reflexology by recognizing competent practitioners. Testing is purely voluntary, but a high score from the ARCB is a good sign that a practitioner is competent.
Reflexologists work closely with their clients, so it is essential that you be friendly, open, and sensitive to the feelings of others. You must be able to gain your clients’ trust, make them comfortable and relaxed, and communicate well enough with them to gather the information that they need in order to treat them effectively. It is highly unlikely that an uncommunicative person who is uncomfortable with people will be able to build a reflexology practice. In addition, you must be comfortable making decisions and working alone. Most reflexologists have their own practices, and anyone who sets up shop will need to deal with the basic tasks and problems that all business owners face: advertising, accounting, taxes, legal requirements, and so forth.
Exploring Reflexologist Career
The best way to learn about the field of reflexology is to speak with reflexologists. Call practitioners and ask to interview them. Find reflexologists in your area if you can, but do not hesitate to contact people in other areas. There is no substitute for learning from those who actually do the work. Although most reflexologists run oneperson practices, it may be possible to find clerical work of some kind with a successful practitioner in your area, especially if you live in a large city.
Read as much as you can on the subject. Many books are currently available, and many more will be available in the near future, since the field is growing rapidly. Look for information on reflexology in magazines that deal with alternative medicine and bodywork. Learn as much as you can about alternative therapies. You may find that you wish to practice a number of techniques in addition to reflexology.
For the most part, reflexologists work for themselves, although they may work at businesses that include reflexology as one of a number of services that they provide. It is probably wise to assume that you are going to run your own business, even if you do end up working for another organization. In most cases, organizations that use reflexologists bring them in as independent contractors rather than employees.
You should begin by taking the best, most comprehensive course of study you can find from a school that will certify you as a practitioner. After that, if you have not found an organization that you can work for, you should begin to practice on your own. You may rent an office or set up shop at home in order to save money. You may begin by working part-time, so that you can earn money by other means while you are getting your business underway. Be sure to investigate the state and local laws that may affect you.
To run your own business, you need to be well versed in basic business skills. You may want to take courses in business or seek advice from the local office of the Small Business Administration. Seek advice from people you know who run their own businesses. Your financial survival will depend on your business skills, so be sure that you know what you are doing.
Because most reflexologists work for themselves, advancement in the field is directly related to the quality of treatment they provide and their business skills. Reflexologists advance by proving to the members of their community that they are skilled, honest, professional, and effective.
There are no reliable figures to indicate what reflexologists earn per year. In most cases, however, reflexologists charge between $30 and $60 per hour. Some practitioners may charge as little as $15 per hour, while a small number of well-respected reflexologists in large cities may earn $100 or even substantially more per hour. Many reflexologists do not work 40 hours per week doing reflexology exclusively. It is likely that most reflexologists earn between $7,000 and $35,000 per year, while some may earn more than $100,000 per year. Typically, it takes quite some time for new practitioners to build up a practice, so many of them rely on other sources of income in the beginning. Many reflexologists offer other holistic treatments and therapies, which means that they do not rely on reflexology to provide all their income.
Reflexologists almost always work in their homes or in their own offices. Although some reflexologists may have office help, most work alone. For this reason, practitioners must be independent enough to work effectively on schedules of their own devising. Because they must make their clients comfortable in order to provide effective treatment, they generally try to make their workplaces as pleasant and relaxing as possible. Many practitioners play soothing music while they work. Some, especially those who practice aromatherapy as well as reflexology, use scents to create a relaxed atmosphere.
Reflexologist Career Outlook
Although no official government analysis of the future of reflexology has yet been conducted, it seems safe to say that the field is expanding much more rapidly than the average for all fields. Although science still views it with skepticism, reflexology has become relatively popular in a short period of time. It has certainly benefited from the popular acceptance of alternative medicine and therapies in recent years, particularly because it is a holistic practice that aims to treat the whole person rather than the symptoms of disease or discomfort. Because reflexology treatments entail little risk to the client in most cases, they provide a safe and convenient way to improve health. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that employment of massage therapists will grow faster than the average occupation through 2014, and it is likely that employment in reflexology will grow similarly.
For More Information:
- American Commission for Accreditation of Reflexology Education and Training
- American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB)