Jocelyn Ross rubs feet for a living. It’s a job for which the Scottsdale woman has spent hundreds of hours in training, at which she now has more than six years of experience and for which she charges $75 an hour.
But Ross doesn’t just make your tootsies feel good. Ross is a certified reflexologist — one of a growing number of practitioners of a healing art that dates back to ancient China in which the feet, hands and ears are used to treat the whole body.
"Do you feel those little crunchy things in your toe, right there?" Ross asks as she manipulates the big toe of a woman in her office at Alternatives in Health, the Scottsdale practice she shares with two naturopathic physicians. "That means you have tension in your neck."
People come to Ross with chronic back pain, allergies, respiratory problems, during chemo or after surgery. Talk show host Regis Philbin claimed reflexology sessions spared him kidney stone surgery.
The science is based on the manipulation of pressure points, primarily in the foot, that relate to various parts of the body, though new information is constantly emerging about different methodologies, says Ross.
In the U.S., reflexology is roped with all the other alternative therapies — such as reiki or aromatherapy — and its practitioners are legally prohibited from claiming that they can heal maladies, says Ross. Almost everywhere else, though, including Great Britain, Australia, China and New Zealand, reflexology is regarded as being much more credible.
"In Russia, you have to be a doctor to apply reflexology," says Helen Whysong, owner of the Arizona Institute of Reflexology in Mesa. "And in China, they work side by side with the doctors."
It should be the same here, says Whysong, who holds three certifications as a reflexologist, a master’s degree from the American Reflexology Certification Board in Colorado and has more than 20 years’ experience. Western medicine has yet to explore the potential benefits, she says, despite increasing acceptance of what are being called complementary therapies.
"They treat us like a gimmick," she says.
Reflexology, despite its basis in science and training, is one of the most mystical of the alternative healing methods taught at the Southwestern Institute of Healing Arts, says John Schultz, director of the student clinic there. The best practitioners are those who can bring a honed sense of intuition to their sessions, he and Ross say.
"The fascination with reflexology is that your feet, your hands and your ears are all holograms of your entire being, your entire body, even on a multidimensional level," says Schultz. "We can affect your chakras, we can affect your energy body, and we can go into different depths. . . . Quite a bit is revealed. Not just your pathology. Emotionally, things going on in your life, things that have gone on in your past."
Ross says if she notices a tender area on a client’s foot, she then asks about the corresponding body part — for instance, if they were having trouble with their sinuses that day. A new client recently came to her for "reading," saying she had been told Ross was a foot psychic — a title Ross would just as soon avoid.
"I’m not going to look at your feet and say, ‘Oh, in the near future . . . ’ For me, this is more of a clinical practice," she says.
Dr. William F. Morgan, an allergist with offices in Scottsdale and Glendale, says he understands how reflexology works, but doesn’t see how the benefit could be anything but short-term. Then again, Morgan adds, he learns something new every day.
"I would be the first to say — and I just turned 60 — that the longer I’m in medicine, the more questions I have," he says. "And I realize that we don’t have answers to everything. I think there is a role for complementary medicine, it’s just that we need more scientific explanation of how it works."
Schultz said the greatest advocates of reflexology are the clients. "When you have the results, experience is evidence."