You take a six-hour class, get a certificate, and voilá, you’re a certified reflexologist, right? Wrong. Receiving a certificate of completion at the end of one reflexology course does not mean you’ve become a certified reflexologist. On the other hand, a nail technician can offer reflexology services in most states without certification anyway.

Although reflexology (the art and science of manipulating nerve endings in the hands and feet to pinpoint stress and relax clients) has been around for years, it has very few training outlets and almost no regulation at the state level. Dwight Byers, president of the International Institute of Reflexology in St. Petersburg, Fla., says his aunt wrote one of the first books on reflexology in 1938 called Stories the Feet Can Tell. “We’ve been training and certifying reflexologists for 50 years,” Byers says. For nail technicians in particular, however, reflexology is still a relatively new practice, and there are few states that require nail technicians to have any additional licensing or certification to do it.

Who Regulates Reflexology?

In some states, reflexology falls under the auspices of the massage therapy board and a massage therapy license is required to practice reflexology. In most of these states, though, if you are a licensed nail technician or cosmetologist, you are exempt from massage laws, says Kevin Kunz, president of Reflexology Research in Albuquerque, N.M. Most massage boards have no jurisdiction over cosmetologists or nail technicians. “Ironically, in states that require a massage therapy license for reflexologists, there is no curriculum for reflexology, so basically you can practice it without being educated,” says Kunz.

As for the requirements for nail technicians to practice reflexology, it’s really a gray area. Although none of the state agencies that license nail technicians regulate reflexology, when asked if technicians can perform the service legally, answers varied widely. In Arizona, for example, “a nail technician must post a sign at her workstation that says this is a service that is unregulated by the board of cosmetology”; in Missouri, a nail technician must have an esthetician license to practice reflexology. To further complicate matters, if reflexology isn’t specified in the rule books, it’s fine to practice it in some states, white other states say the exact opposite. Surprisingly, some state agencies told us they had never heard of reflexology, and yet others thought the service may be regulated by the board of medicine.

Renegade or Respectable?

So what does this mean to the nail technician and her clients? To quote one state agent, “buyer beware.” With virtually no regulation, reflexology education and technique quality will vary widely. Although education isn’t mandatory, proper training is crucial. “You can really cause discomfort to a client if you don’t know what you’re doing,” says Robin Varga of Robin Varga Massage and Reflexology in Oakland, Calif.

With the education and experience you have as a nail technician, you already know the art of touch you need to use when caring for nails and the surrounding tissue and you know how hard or far you can push on certain parts of the human hand and foot without causing pain. To learn how to properly perform reflexology, though, there are many organizations across the country that offer certification.

It’s important not to confuse “certification” with a “certificate of completion,” which is what you usually get after you attend only one class. When Varga teaches a reflexology session at tradeshows, she gives out a certificate of attendance at the end of the class, but she does it reluctantly. “I think a certificate of completion for a one-day class is misleading because the participant hasn’t completed an entire course,” she says.

To call yourself a certified reflexologist, you must take a course that requires a certain amount of hours, pass a written and practical exam, and reach a measurable level of competency (this measurement varies depending on the course you take). Byers recommends a course that offers a minimum of 200 hours. At his school, the certification course includes 42 hours of seminars, 58 hours of home study, and 100 hours of documented reflexology sessions on at least 15 people. The cost is approximately $900. Remember, certification is granted by the instructing organization, not by a state board.

For certified reflexologists who want to go one step further in their education, they can become certified with the American Reflexology Certification Board in Littleton, Colo., which is the only national testing certification agency in the U.S., says director Barbara Mosier. “We require 200 hours of reflexology training prior to taking our written exam, a practical exam, and 90 hours of client documentation. Our aim is to certify the competency of those who practice reflexology on a professional level, to promote higher standards, and to ensure public safety.”

Nail technicians who wish to learn or practice reflexology should contact their state board first to determine regulations in their state. Until reflexology is established as a state-monitored service, complete with minimum hours and required school curriculum, it’s a nail technician’s responsibility to make sure she receives the necessary training.

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