Few massage schools in North America teach reflexology in-depth, if at all. Therefore, it's not surprising that most students graduate either knowing little about reflexology or with an inaccurate impression that it is simply the application of pressure, during a massage, on sensitive points on the feet.
Perhaps the best way to describe the relationship between reflexology and massage is to use an analogy: If we equate bodywork to general medicine, reflexology, massage and reiki (as examples) are all specialties of bodywork. Oncology and cardiovascular practices are specialties of medicine. Reflexology and massage are disciplines (branches of knowledge) of the broader discipline of bodywork; both are subsets, or modalities, of bodywork. Just as oncology is not a subset of gastrointestinal medicine, reflexology is not a subset of massage.
What makes reflexology different?
People seek reflexology for some of the same reasons they seek massage: both improve circulation of the blood and lymph and enhance the recipient's quality of life.
Western massage techniques are designed to relax tension within the soft tissue, with a goal of restoring health. The intent may be to diminish pain, improve posture or structural function, and produce physical, emotional and mental relaxation.
Although the benefits of reflexology include relaxation of mind and musculature, the primary intent is to improve the health of the body's physiology, the functioning of the body's internal operating systems. Reflexology typically focuses on reflexes corresponding to stressed organs and glands, not the connective-tissue elements of the body part being worked.
Why seek reflexology
In my nearly 30 years of practice, I have found people choose foot, hand or ear reflexology when they experience:
• High levels of stress, resulting in sleep disorders, anxiety and depression.
• Pain in the feet or hands from overuse, arthritis, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, excessive text messaging, injuries or gout.
• Less-than-optimal functioning of a body system, manifesting as respiratory allergies, digestive problems, headaches, diabetes, reproductive issues, dementia, weight gain, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or cancer.
Some massage therapists choose to stand out in the crowd by developing a specialty in reflexology. They either immerse themselves in a comprehensive certification program--the national standard being 300 hours--or take weekend workshops in Western-style reflexology or Thai foot reflexology.
Certified reflexologists create reflexology-based practices that safely help people of all ages restore homeostasis, optimize physiological functions and address system imbalances and weaknesses.
Massage therapists with two- or three-day trainings under their belt support clients by offering deeply relaxing, stress-reduction sessions or preface their massage treatments with reflexology to dramatically increase the results of their massage.
There are many models in which to operate a reflexology practice, either as an employee or independent business owner.
When I first began practicing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1983, I shared an office with a massage therapist and esthetician. We recommended each others' services as a way to enhance the satisfaction of our clientele, boost our individual businesses and develop a reputation in the community as a one-stop operation.
After moving to the U.S., I worked with a chiropractor, providing manual therapy to his patients prior to their spinal adjustments. Although the chiropractor previously worked with a massage therapist, he reported that his patients benefited more from the combination of reflexology and massage.
Environments that might appeal to you:
• Mobile home or workplace
• The office of a doctor specializing in internal medicine, oncology or podiatry
• Private practice on your own or within a group health care clinic
• Pain-management clinic
• Detoxification or addiction-treatment center
• Seniors' residence
• Sporting events
• Clinics serving military veterans experiencing challenges from amputation, post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries
Qualified reflexologists can sit for a national board-certification credential, which is maintained with continuing education classes offered through live workshops, online courses, and local and national conferences.
The scope and focus of paths to explore are vast, and include maternity and infant reflexology; pain management; essential oils; hot and cold stones; eldercare; Chinese meridian therapy; specific conditions, such as fibromyalgia, diabetes, menstrual pain and irregularities; hypertension; cancer; foot pain and more.
For more information about reflexology schools in the U.S., visit the American Reflexology Certification Board's website at http://arcb.net or the Reflexology Association of America's website at www.reflexology-usa.org.