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This non-invasive holistic therapy is based on the premise that the feet, hands and ears each have reflex areas that connect to internal organs and other body structures. Applying pressure through specialised massage to these areas stimulates the body’s inherent healing ability, promoting balance and health. Reflexology is able to quickly relieve stress, harmonise the body, and boost immunity; it can ease pain, relax muscles and enhance digestion, and it positively affects the body’s circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems.

While no definitive explanation exists regarding the mechanism behind reflexology, there are several theories, one of which is similar to the traditional Chinese medicine theory of promoting a free flow of energy through the body. Another is the neuromatrix theory of pain, which suggests pain is a subjective experience created by the brain in response to the sensory experience of pain, although it can also create pain in response to emotional or cognitive factors; therefore, factors that influence the brain, such as mood or stress, can also affect our experience of pain. Reflexology may reduce pain by reducing stress and improving mood. A 2012 study from Michigan State University offers strong evidence that reflexology can help cancer patients manage symptoms and perform daily tasks. University of Portland researchers in a 2013 study found participants felt 40 percent less pain, and could cope with pain for about 45 percent longer, when they used reflexology.

Expert advice

“Our minimum accepted qualification is the Certificate of Clinical Reflexology (CoCR), which is equivalent to the old Certificate IV in Reflexology,” says Sonia Bailey, President, Reflexology Association of Australia (RAoA) (www.reflexology.org.au). “The HLT Diploma of Reflexology is also accepted, and some CoCR students choose to upgrade to Diploma level.” Registered training organisations that teach the Diploma of Reflexology are listed as accredited on the RAoA website.

“Avoid 100 percent online training if your aim is to become a professional reflexologist, because acceptance as a professional member of any reputable association will be refused and the health funds will not recognise the training,” says Heather Edwards, RAoA Education Committee. “And understand there’s a requirement to conduct case studies. Some students struggle with anatomy and physiology, others with business and marketing.” Bailey adds, “To prepare for life as a practitioner, students should compile a record of tools essential for professional practice. These include: Code of Ethics and Professional Practice guidelines; brochures and business tools (available via the RAoA); the National Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners and the Privacy Act.”

“Find a mentor, and be prepared for ongoing training and learning, and to build your practice by integrating a wide variety of knowledge and techniques,” says Edwards. “Participation in continued professional training is essential.” Bailey adds, “Learn how to market your business. Getting your name out there is the most important thing to fill your diary initially. Providing great results will keep your diary filled. Word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising.” Edwards says the qualities that make a good reflexologist are: “A caring and nurturing nature; good listening skills and sensitive communication skills; willingness to trust what the reflexes are telling you, which may not be what you learnt; the ability to think holistically.” Bailey adds, “If you're not a people person, this isn't the career for you. But don’t let that stop you from learning it, as it’s a wonderful self-help technique.”