The Washington Reflexology Association (WRA) boasts in its membership several Washington natives who’ve been practicing reflexology for over 30 years. Some of them were also massage therapists, and some of them practiced secretly. Up until the turn of the century, reflexologists were required to be licensed as massage therapists (under chapter 18.108 RCW) in order to practice legally in Washington.
The fields of massage and reflexology carry different histories, have dissimilar methodologies and training requirements, and produce distinct client outcomes. These factors prompted a dedicated group of reflexologists, who believed that the differences between massage and reflexology justified separation, to lobby for exemption from Washington State’s massage law. The time-consuming and costly legislative process was borne by volunteers, who formed and became the backbone of the WRA. In 2002, their efforts paid off when the State exempted reflexology from the massage law, thus allowing trained reflexologists to practice legally without regulation.
Reflexology Legislative Update
CURRENT REFLEXOLOGY LEGISLATION
Ten years later, in January 2012, reflexology was back on the State’s legislative agenda. The WRA has always had a grievance committee and proudly reports that there has been no negative activity over the past decade: no complaints about reflexology or reflexologists to the WRA or to the State Department of Health. That is, until low-priced “foot-spas” started showing up.
The foot spas, many showing reflexology charts and stock photos of a practitioner’s hands holding a foot, are a trend that seems to have sprung up along the West coast. While some foot spas are legitimate businesses, it was suspected that others could be fronts for human trafficking. It’s also relevant to note that some of these establishments, while not legally licensed for massage, promote and offer full-body massages as well. King 5 News did an expose on one establishment in 2010 after complaints were made to state agencies about their dubious business practices. It’s been shown that it’s easier to expose these illicit practices than it is to stop them. Many just close their doors and open up somewhere else.
The local foot spas also drew the attention of the honorable Senators Karen Keiser (D) 33rd Legislative District and Karen Fraser (D) 22ndLegislative District. Concerned with the specter of human trafficking going on in their districts under the guise of reflexology, they submitted a bill to register reflexologists in the State of Washington.
The exemption from the massage law that allowed trained reflexologists to practice without regulation also allowed literally anyone to call themselves a reflexologist in Washington State.
While the members of the WRA found human trafficking deplorable, they were threatened by the cost of regulation. In our State, regulation must be paid for by the practitioners themselves and there was clearly no way a group our size could shoulder these costs alone. Yet our right to practice reflexology legitimately was being threatened, and our good name tarnished by these illicit practitioners.
As it turns out, there was a lot we didn’t know and we’ve learned a great deal during this process, and once again we realized we were in this together with the massage community.
Members of the WRA stepped up, spending countless volunteer hours working toward a solution that would address the very real issues of illicit practitioners and human trafficking while promoting the rights and best interests of trained reflexologists in our State. On March 29, 2012 Governor Christine Gregoire signed ESSB6103 into law.
STATUS OF THE REFLEXOLOGY LAW
The new law took effect July 1, 2013. It clarifies reflexology’s scope of practice in line with national standards and requires that all certified reflexologists meet educational criteria, including an approved school program and an exam. The WA State Department of Health (DOH) established specific training and education standards in conjuction with the implementation of the new law. While the WRA’s interest is to promote the highest standards of training and practice, and to represent reflexology as a unique modality, the DOH is charged with ensuring that the public is protected. The law also empowers the Department of Health to access businesses and with the support of law enforcement, work to eliminate human trafficking and other illicit practices.