Reiki Reflexology for Mental Health Conditions
I am the Complementary Therapist at a mental health drop-in charity based in Feltham, the Feltham Open Door Project. I am employed not only as a practitioner one day a week, but also in the capacity as a project support worker at the drop-in for a further two days.
The Drop-In operates within the voluntary sector, the only one in the London Borough of Hounslow which is a non-referral service. This means that clients do not have to go through their GP for a referral. As a service, we work very closely with the local community mental health teams (CMHTs), referring people in need of their services, just as they refer clients to us, as part of their care plan.
The clients of the Drop-In may suffer from a number of mental health conditions. These could range from clinical depression; anxiety; schizophrenia; bi-polar disorder (otherwise known as manic depression); borderline personality disorders to substance abuse issues and learning difficulties. Most of the people I speak to within the drop-in are suffering some kind of depression and anxiety, usually linked to life events, but which makes it very difficult for them to cope with life. In spite of the extreme stigma of mental health, it should be noted that ‘depression is the number one psychological disorder in the western world’, and it is increasing at such an alarming rate ‘that by 2020 it will be the second most disabling condition behind heart disease’.1 The same site goes on to inform that up to 20% of individuals experience some type of depression, and that ten times more people suffer form major depression now than in 1945. I feel that this is due to many factors; life experiences; self-esteem, increased stressors within daily life such as financial pressures and relationship issues. This is coupled with poor nutrition brought about by nutrient deprived soils. Our bodies are designed to process the vitamins and nutrients that we consume from our food, in order to achieve optimum health. If these nutrients are not available in the soils in the first place, due to intensive farming methods, the plant will be deprived of these and we will be unable to access them from the plants, thus our bodies will eventually suffer, not just physically, but emotionally as well. This detrimental activity is further exacerbated by the over-use of chemicals in our environment. Dr Carl Pfeiffer states, “Modern man is exposed to many chemicals that interfere with how the nutrients from food work. These are called ‘anti-nutrients’ and include certain kinds of food additives, household chemicals, drugs, and inhaled pollutants from smoking, exhaust and industrial chemicals”.2 He goes on to say, “Perhaps the most significant discovery in the nutritional treatment of mental illness is that many depressed and mentally ill people are deficient in vitamin B6 and zinc”.
Therefore, from a holistic point of view, Reflexology and Reiki are therapeutic agents bringing back the whole person into balance by de-stressing and promoting relaxation; calming the nervous system; detoxifying the body from harmful agents and excess fluids; and simply allowing peace to enter the system. It should always be remembered that the body, given what it needs, always works toward wellness, never illness!
For readers not conversant with Reflexology, the foot acts as a map of the body with various areas on the foot, relating to areas of the body. The right foot relates to the right side from the mid-line, whilst the left foot relates to the left side from the mid-line. Reflexology harmonises the mind body and spirit and aids the body to balance itself.
As an accredited practitioner of Vertical Reflex Therapy (VRT), pioneered by Lynne Booth, I use this powerful therapy as an adjunct to my treatments. VRT is applied to the individual as they are standing up, and it is the weight bearing aspect of it that activates the nerves, activating powerful healing energies to the system. As it is a very short treatment it is always incorporated into a standard treatment.
Reiki and other Healing Modalities
The Reiki practitioner works on the energy system of the body, or the subtle energy (more commonly known as the ‘aura’). When an individual is healthy and strong their life-force energy flows around and through their body, bringing health and vitality to their physical being and mental, emotional selves. However, when someone becomes stressed their energy becomes stagnant, and doesn’t flow in the way it is meant to and areas of stagnation result which, if not corrected, bring ill health to the person, whether of mind, body or spirit. The Reiki practitioner’s role is to re-adjust the energy field of the client by channelling the life-force energy to these areas of stagnation, bringing the entire energy field to optimum functioning.
It should be stated here that Reiki clients do not have to have any particular religious persuasion; it benefits all, and is a practice of the spirit or ‘essence’ of the person, rather than one related to any particular belief system.
Working with Clients who Suffer Mental Health Conditions
I work in conjunction with GPs, seeking permission where appropriate, in order to commence treatment. I find myself educating the practitioners, as well as enlightening them about the possible benefits of Reflexology and Reiki.
Mental health clients are by nature rather anxious people. They are not only battling with anxiety, and depression, but they might be feeling both physically and emotionally unwell, lethargic, unmotivated, either due to their illness or medication, and will not be able to turn up for treatment due to the debilitating nature of these symptoms. It is, therefore, crucial in my role as practitioner that I do not exacerbate their feelings of anxiety and that the client feels it is ‘okay’ if they don’t turn up one week. I am, therefore, very laid-back about their attendance, reassuring them that I can always fill their place, should they find they are unable to come, and that I can re-book them in another time when they feel more in tune with a treatment. These are people to be greatly respected, because to get up every day feeling that lousy takes great courage!
Clients in very high states of anxiety and depression (which often go hand in hand) suffer very painful joints due to extreme tension held in the muscles. This is further exacerbated by the fact that due to limited financial resources, as most are on benefit, they eat a diet high in refined sugar, carbohydrates and processed food, and few alkaline forming foods, such as fruit and vegetables. Acid-forming foods (meats, grains, milk,) encourage the body toward anxiety states, whilst the alkaline-forming foods (fruit and vegetables) make the system calmer and less anxious. A lot of people eat wheat when they might also be wheat intolerant – this is often mirrored in tender colon reflexes. In this instance I offer alternative grains in place of wheat to see whether it makes any difference to their physical and emotional state. Additionally, very anxious people tend to shallow-breathe, so that less oxygen reaches their cells. The relaxation that Reiki and Reflexology bring to the client enables them to breathe deeply, allowing the body to replenish its supply of much needed oxygen.
Depression and other mental health issues are often coupled with a feeling low self-esteem. These self esteem issues may be due to traumatic negative life experiences that have left them unable to cope or ill-equipped to deal with the circumstances of their life.
As many mental health sufferers do not have any feelings of empowerment, I support them to set healthy boundaries and to learn to say ‘No’ in appropriate ways. If they request it, I give them tips on how to tackle this difficult subject by encouraging them to start in small ways, learning in gentle ways how to set the boundaries necessary to turn them into people-empowered strong individuals.
Reflexology and Schizophrenia Contraindications
Although some Reflexology schools teach that there are contraindications to using Reflexology in certain hallucinatory conditions, such as bi-polar and schizophrenia, I have been unable to determine whether this is actually an urban myth or whether there really is any truth in this theory, as there is very little research available on the internet. There is certainly very little information in Reflexology text books. The theory is that by stimulating the body, if the body is leaning towards an excitable hallucinatory state, it will be driven even further in that direction, producing worse hallucinations in the sufferer.
The only research I could come up with involving mental health and Complementary Therapy3 did not use Reflexology as one of the therapies tested, but instead used Herbs, Meditation, Spiritual Practices, Massage, Chiropractic, Yoga, Guided Imagery and Nutritional Supplements.
For best practice I would always request permission from the GP to commence treatment, informing at the same time how Reflexology might benefit the patient’s condition.
My own rule of thumb, when working with these hallucinatory states, is that if individuals show signs of becoming ill, I will not give them any Reflexology, even if I have the doctor’s permission or have worked on them in the past to no ill-effect. I simply tell them that I don’t feel they are well enough to have a treatment at present as this may make them worse. They usually accept this quite happily, knowing that I am working with their best interest in mind.
Testing the Efficacy of Complementary Therapies
In order to promote Complementary Therapies and ensure they become more mainstream, more research needs to be done. Therefore, I have just started a research programme attempting to find out the efficacy of Reflexology and Reiki in dealing with individuals’ mental health symptoms.
After they have completed six treatments, I ask them to complete an optional questionnaire outlining how the various therapies have assisted their mental, emotional and physical symptoms. This will be used ultimately as some sort of underpinning of the efficacy of Reiki and Reflexology in assisting certain emotional and mental states. It will also be useful when seeking further funding.
The research has only recently started, and because I am the only therapist I am obviously limited in the number of people I can treat. However, of those who have responded so far, all have stated that the Reflexology and /or Reiki have assisted them in becoming ‘calmer’, ‘experiencing less physical pain’. Anxiety levels have dropped in all cases. One responder, a male, stated that prior to having the Reiki and Reflexology “nothing helped” his anxiety levels which were ‘at ten’ but after the Reiki they had dropped down five’. All said they lost their temper less.
In conclusion, it is to be hoped with such encouraging results that Reiki and Reflexology will be used to much more benefit within the mainstream treatment of mental health, and that Complementary Therapies will one day be used as a matter of course not only for mental health sufferers, but all patients within the NHS.
1. www.clinical-depression.co.uk/Depression_ Information/facts. Jan 26, 2007.
2. Pfeiffer C Dr. Mental Health the Nutrition Connection. pp 92. ION Press. London.
3. Russinova Z, Wewiorski NJ and Cash D. Use of Alternative Health Care Practices by Persons with Serious Mental Illness. American Journal of Public Health. Volume 92. 2002.
Crane Beryl. The Definitive Practitioner’s Manual to Reflexology. Element Books Ltd. Dorset 1997.
Dougans Inge with Ellis Suzanne. The Art of Reflexology. A Step by Step Guide. Element Books Ltd. Dorset. 1992.
Booth Lynne. Vertical Reflexology. Judy Piatkus Ltd. London. 2000.
James Andrew. Hands on Reflexology. A Complete Guide. Hodder and Stoughton. London. 2002.
Pitman Vicki with MacKenzie K. Reflexology. A Practical Approach. Stanley Thornes Ltd. Cheltenham. 1997.
Holford Patrick and Pfeiffer Carl. Mental Illness. The Nutrition Connection. ION Press. London. 1987.
The Feltham Open Door Project may be contacted on Tel: 020-8844 0509 (Option 3); www.cdrake.co.uk/HTML/Feltham%20Open%20Door%20Project.html
Marie Breward said..
Great article, hope the research goes well. A long time ago I worked with young people who were trying to get off substances. If they tested negative for substances they could come and have a reflexology or chair massage treatment. Many of them had very low self esteem and depression/mental health difficulties. They ofte described the effects of reflexology as similar to the feeling the experienced after taking a substance and that this was healthier for them. I took it to mean that the treatment relaxed them totally and gave them a feel good feeling.
I've also worked extensively with people who have been biopolar or severely depressed and in almost all cases there is a link to chronic constipation and the level of depression they are experienceing. By encouraging a good bowel movement their mood lifted emotionally almost immediately following. I'd be interested if you experience this phenomena with your research clients too. Regards Marie Breward