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Reflexology and Mental Illness

by Gwen Potts(more info)

listed in reflexology, originally published in issue 234 - November 2016

Awareness of mental health issues has increased greatly over the recent years, which means that those suffering in silence have an increasing support system, gradually reducing the stigma that has often been applied to this area for many years. This can only be a good thing, as more people than we perhaps realize have come across anxiety, depression and other mental health issues at some point in their lives. With increasing awareness and support from both the orthodox and alternative world, there is indeed hope that when we face challenging times, when we do reach out we can find the help and support we need. There are many alternative health care treatments that can help in this area, for the purpose of this article I will be discussing reflexology and its many benefits. 

Reflexology and Mental Illness

Reflexology is a treatment based on the principle that there are areas and points on the feet that map via the nervous system to corresponding parts of the body. When pressure is applied to these areas it stimulates the movement of energy along the nerve channels, and helps to restore homoeostasis (balance) in the body.

The idea of stimulating the body’s own healing energy by using pressure points on the feet, has been known to different cultures around the world and throughout history. Earliest traces have been found over 5,000 years ago in China, Japan, Egypt and among Indian tribes. Eventually spreading to Europe and were used in the Middle Ages by both peasants and the aristocracy. Reflexology was then rediscovered in the late 1890s by a Dr. William Fitzgerald and introduced into the United States, arriving in Britain in the 1960s.

The benefits of reflexology make it wonderful for all stress-related conditions by inducing a state of relaxation; tension can be released, circulation improved and toxins eliminated from the body. For people suffering from stress-related issues, anxiety, or mental/emotionall imbalance, reflexology can prove to be a supportive and healing therapy. Clients report being able to express emotions and feelings more openly, which can then lead to positive lifestyle changes and a feeling of being more in control. Reflexology is simple, safe and very effective and works well with other forms of medicine, both orthodox and complementary.

What is Mental Health?

Good mental health may be described as a balanced, healthy attitude towards life, which may be influenced by different physiological, psychological, environmental and sometimes genetic factors. We may suffer with mental health issues for many reasons including repressed traumas, chronic stress or physical illnesss as well as a range of other factors. When suffering with depression or any other mental illness, we often feel very alone, hopeless and overwhelmed. However, there are places to find support, if you can find the courage to reach out. I believe in the power of having an open space to feel seen and heard, as well as receiving the physical/emotional benefits of natural therapies such as reflexology. Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone, is a huge step to regaining balance.

Reflexology can help with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) or [PTSD]
  • Eating Disorders such as Anorexia or Bulimia
  • Chronic stress conditions

As well as other emotional and physical illnesses.

Mental illnesses often find expression through other means and their symptoms may manifest in the body’s nervous system, immunity, thought processes and perception. Whilst drugs can help mellow some of the symptoms of these conditions, it is often by getting to the root cause with a supportive therapist that may be the greatest help long term. The art of reflexology benefits ones mental health by stimulating the nervous and lymphatic systems, encouraging a release of the feel-good hormones ‘endorphins,’ which help to relieve stress, the body’s natural coping mechanism.

The areas below can be worked on during a reflexology treatment, to have a balancing effect in the body.

  • Adrenal glands – Your adrenal glands regulate stress hormones in the body and are very sensitive. In stressful situations they can go into overdrive and overproducee epinephrine, keeping your body on alert. When these are overstimulated over a long period of time, it can deplete our energy stores and it is therefore important to calm the nervous system to restore balance;
  • Brain – The goal here is to ease your anxiety both physically and mentally. If you are over-thinking and cannot calm yourself down, reflexology can calm things down.
  • As you become more physically relaxed, it allows for increased mental relaxation and inner stillness;
  • Colon – In some cases anxiety can have implications on the digestive system and colon. If your stress and anxiety is linked to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or other colon issues, then this form of treatment may provide some relief;
  • Pineal gland – Stress can wreak havoc with our sleep patterns; the pineal gland helps control the cycle of waking up and falling asleep. Reflexology can help reset this natural functioning to restore a healthy sleep pattern;
  • Pituitary gland – Another glad in the brain concerned with high anxiety and stress is the pituitary. As the body increases the production of stress hormones it is important to work this area, balancing the bodies hormone responses;

Now you have some understanding of how reflexology can help with mental health conditions and may you feel encouraged to get some support with any problems you may be facing. Then the next step is to find a qualified reflexologist who is part of a professional body. You often receive an initial consultation to discuss any issues you may be having, and then a treatment plan is formulated by your reflexologist.

Working together with your reflexologist can help to progress along the road to recovery, giving you a valuable focus point, as well as much needed physical and emotional support. Often just having space to be with whatever you are feeling that day, in an environment where any feeling, thought or emotion is completely valid and respected can go a long way toward recovery. When people come together in this way, miracles can and do happen. It can take a lot of courage to reach out, but when we do we find there are ways through whatever challenge we may be facing. It’s just taking that first step.

Within my own practice I have seen clients with a wide array of conditions, from anxiety, depression, PTSD to name a few. In my experience it is by no means a quick process, but with regular reflexology and encouragement to promote self-care practice real progress can be gained through this valuable therapy. Jane a regular client that came to be to help with her anxiety provided this testimonial, which I feel says it all.

“Having a weekly focus point, with an open, safe, space to come to each week, helped such an enormous amount during a challenging time in my life. After the sessions I could relax, felt back in balance and like I could cope with life again. Gwen taught me the value of self-care which I gradually did by taking small steps each day, towards regaining my health and finally gained control of my life”.


Beryl Crane. Reflexology: The Definitive Practitioner's Manual. Element; ISBN 862041253. 1997.

Rosalind Oxenford. Discover Reflexology. Ulysses. ISBN-10: 1569751129. 1997.


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About Gwen Potts

Gwen Potts studied Reflexology and Aromatherapy Massage to an advanced level at the City Of Bath College, alongside a Nutrition Diploma qualifying in 2004. She then went on to gain experience in spas and clinics across the UK, before setting up her own private practice. Gwen has studied a variety of techniques and practices over the years, all of which she brings to her treatments to provide a unique offering, to each individual that walks into her clinic. Gwen believes that having an hour to ourselves in a relaxing environment, and space to share our thoughts and feelings on a regular basis, are fundamental to overall health as a human being. With a naturally calm and grounded energy, she creates a gentle, nurturing environment and offers a space to truly relax and restore the mind, body and spirit. More recently her work has taken her on a journey to supporting and nurturing women, believing in the power of self-care and space for inner stillness, throughout all stages of life. ​As a member of The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) which is the leading professional association for therapists in the UK, she abides by the code of ethics as outlined by FHT.

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