Chances are, if you’re even remotely interested in reflexology you will have heard of the Association of Reflexologists – whether you’re newly trained and want to receive updates on the industry or you’re a long standing member who regularly attends the webinars, or even if you’re a patient, looking for someone to help heal you through your feet. It’s a comprehensive organisation and a well known one within the therapeutic industry. So when we were looking for experts we knew we just had to get someone from the Association to chat to us.
Enter Tracey Smith who works for AoR as Reflexology and Research Manager, a role in which she dabbles in PR, research, and advice and support for reflexologists. With a background in science and a passion for helping people, we knew she was the ideal interviewee to inspire reflexologists of the future...
Tell us a bit about how you came to be where you are today...what drew you to reflexology?
I was working as a research scientist in an assisted conception unit when I decided to do an evening class; my local college was offering short evening courses in lots of things including wine tasting. So I gathered up some cash and went to enrol. Unfortunately I was too late and the wine tasting was already full, so I asked what else was available on the same day at the same time and was told they only had reflexology! I knew it was something to do with feet and so decided to go with it, and enrolled on an introduction to reflexology course completely by accident and not by planning.
This was fate taking me by the hand because after the short three month course I embarked on a full year training course and have not looked back since. I changed my full time employment to self- employment and ventured forth into the world of reflexology.
That’s quite a big career change – has your science background helped at all?
Reflexology is based on ancient arts but also there are scientific studies that are beginning to shed light on how it works. The practice of reflexology is actually also based on anatomy and physiology so there is some cross over. My scientific training has always helped me with my reflexology but it is not a necessary background to have prior to training as a reflexologist as the level 3 QCF qualification requires completion of an anatomy and physiology training unit.
Can you tell us a bit more about what the Association of Reflexologists stands for?
The AoR was originally set up in 1984 as a professional organisation supporting reflexologists who have high standard reflexology training. This ethos still stands today and we have a minimum requirement for membership of the QCF level 3 Diploma in Reflexology. The letters MAR (full member), FMAR (fellow) and HMAR (honorary) after a therapist's name have denoted their full membership status, demonstrating that they have met certain standards of reflexology practice, and that they are committed to continually developing their skills and knowledge, together with agreeing to abide by the Association's Code of Practice and Ethics. For the public, the AoR is an easy way to find a well-trained and insured therapist through our ‘Find a reflexologist’ search. The AoR offers a unique level of personal support to practising reflexologists which is unparalleled in the UK.
What does your role there entail?
I have several strands to my job role, the three main ones being; I am very much part of the support and advice line that is available to full members within office hours, where a member can ring up and ask questions to do with their clients, business or anything else they need support with; I am also integral to the PR team, the production of articles to the press and media to promote reflexology as a therapy and also as a career choice; lastly because of my unusual background, I also provide a translation service between reflexologists and research. Research is important to reveal what reflexology might have an effect on and how it might work. There are a few small studies that are beginning to show clear links between the foot reflexes and reactions in the brain.
There are many people out there who are sceptical as to whether reflexology ‘works’ – what would you say to them?
Reflexology has achieved reputations for benefitting all sorts of problems, including pain, fertility issues and support for chronic illnesses. Those reputations are built on word of mouth; someone that has achieved a great response will often tell their friends to try a therapy, whether or not the research backs up that response, because human nature says if it works in one then it might in another. There has been some research carried out which shows effectiveness but not in a large enough quantity for the medical world. You will never know if reflexology works for you unless you try it for yourself, with a well-trained and insured reflexologist.
What areas is reflexology best at treating?
Reflexology works on an individual basis so it is not possible to say which areas or illnesses are most likely to benefit from reflexology. It really is an all round treatment and it can have very surprising results. Stress is one of the most all-pervading and damaging problems in our society and reflexology aims to break the hold that stress has on any individual allowing them to achieve full wellbeing.
What makes a good reflexologist?
Someone who has excellent knowledge and training but most important of all, likes people.
What’s the hardest thing to grasp when it comes to learning reflexology?
Learning the reflexology sequence can be taxing but it soon comes naturally with experience. However I think the most struggled-with part would be the anatomy and physiology simply because for many it’s the first time they have had to think about what goes on inside their bodies rather than just taking it for granted.
If you could do your career over again, is there anything you would do differently?
I have had a wonderfully varied career so far and it’s certainly not over yet, I have many more plans on my horizon. I wouldn’t change any of my career related decisions to date; each one has provided invaluable experiences. Change is good when it is for the right reasons.
What advice do you have for people who might like to follow in your footsteps?
People who chose do to complementary therapies rarely do it because they want to be millionaires, which is great because this is unlikely to happen! Often such career choices are grounded in a need to help others and of course being a therapist can work relatively neatly around family life.
When it comes to changing a career though, I have two pieces of advice. Chose something that you love to do and it won’t feel like a job; and always research fully what qualifications you will need to open prospective doors before you sign up on any course. Finding out that you have completed a course that is insufficient for your future needs is costly and ultimately soul-destroying.
Good tip! If you’re inspired by Tracey and want to explore reflexology some more, start by checking out the courses available. Who knows, it could be the start of your big career change too!