(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the complementary and alternative medicine sector
In the last two decades there has been a significant increase in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), for a number of reasons:
- GPs have little time to devote to their patients
- conventional healthcare has become more impersonal
- patients are concerned about the increasing use of powerful drugs
- many conditions such as asthma, arthritis or back pain do not respond satisfactorily to conventional treatment
- patients are better informed and more willing to try alternative therapies
- complementary therapists are providing an increasingly professional service
- the medical profession has acknowledged the benefit to patients of providing both conventional and complementary treatment
- the number of complementary therapists has grown, so that people can more easily access them
In response to the growth in demand, several universities began offering degrees in complementary therapies and the number of therapists grew considerably.
The five most common therapies are acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, herbalism and homeopathy, although reflexology is also popular. Only certain professions are regulated by law and this does not currently include reflexologists.
However, many complementary therapists in all disciplines have been pushing for regulation to be introduced. Statutory regulation would help therapists to reassure both potential clients and medical practitioners that they have received training to a certain standard and that they comply with a code of practice. In October 2007 the General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies (GRCCT) was launched to establish a national register of therapists, including reflexologists. An alternative body - the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) was set up in April 2008 to also maintain a voluntary register of qualified complementary and natural therapists. This was opened to reflexologists in January 2009.
During the late 2000s and early 2010s the reflexology sector was affected by the slump in the economy which squeezed consumers' disposable income levels and meant that more people cut back on non-essentials. Also during this period, the publication of studies challenging the effectiveness of reflexology led to something of a downturn in demand. A number of universities announced that they would no longer offer degree courses in certain therapies, such as homeopathy and reflexology, in response to criticism that the courses had little scientific basis.
Despite this, in the long term the demand for reflexology is likely to remain reasonably strong. But you'll still need to decide if there's enough local demand for your practice and whether you'll be able to compete effectively against therapists that are already operating in your area. Bear in mind, too, that when the economy is performing poorly and consumers are short of money they may limit the amount they are prepared to spend on complementary therapies. Since the Brexit vote in June 2016 there has been little growth in the economy. Increased inflation and restricted real term wage increases have put pressure on disposable incomes, resulting in subdued consumer spending. Little change, if any, is forecast for 2019 and into the foreseeable future.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your profession. There are very many bodies that represent the interests of reflexologists, including:
- the Association of Reflexologists (AOR)
- the British Reflexology Association
- the Clinical Association of Reflexologists
- the International Federation of Reflexologists
- the International Institute of Reflexology
Subscribing to a professional journal is another excellent way of keeping up with developments. The British Reflexology Association publishes the quarterly Footprints newsletter for practitioners in the UK and the Association of Reflexologists publishes the quarterly Reflexions.
You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the complementary medicine sector such as Holistic Health. The Exhibitions UK website also includes details of trade shows that may be of interest to you.