State requires certification of reflexology, massage providers

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WALLA WALLA — For weeks, local reflexologist Diana Bieker has had to close the doors of her business to comply with a new state law. And that’s a good thing, she said.

She expects to reopen any day when she becomes among the first to receive a certificate from Washington state Department of Health stating — for the first time — the Walla Walla provider is trained and certified. The same will be true for others in her line of work in this state.

A new health rule, enacted July 1, calls for licensing of massage and reflexology businesses and gives Department of Health investigators authority to perform unannounced inspections. Previously only law enforcement officers could do so.

The change to the existing law for massage therapy was driven by a concern that such businesses could be used as bases for human trafficking, noted Kristi Weeks, director of the state Department of Health office of legal services.

While it’s not been her department’s experience that massage practices in Washington are involved in using humans for slave labor and sex, the law does address more common issues like sanitary conditions and hygiene standards, she said.

It also sets legal boundaries for practitioners, Weeks said. “So if you are saying you are doing reflexology, that you are doing that and not full body massage.”

Reflexology, according to the Mayo Clinic website, is the practice of manipulating of feet, hands and ears to relieve stress by putting pressure on certain points or zones. The theory is these areas correspond to organs and systems of the body, and that applied pressure affects the organs and benefits health.

Despite their position of trust and close relationship with a client’s body, however, reflexologists in Washington state have come under no regulatory oversight by officials before now, said Bieker, who has practiced in the field since 2006.

She’s in favor of the regulation, she said. When Bieker started her practice in Seattle, nothing was on the books dictating how she should run her business.

“As long as you had a license to touch the body, you were fine,” she said.

As a licensed cosmetologist, she had such legal permission. But Bieker also did extensive training to learn reflexology, part of small number of such therapists in this state and the sole practitioner in Walla Walla, she said.

For now, Bieker and other reflexologists must wait for the certificate that will be displayed in view of clients. Practitioners are also required to take a test to certify knowledge of where to touch and where not to, how to keep client information confidential and how to let clients know a reflexologist cannot diagnose and treat a medical condition, Bieker said.

“We are listed under health-care providers, but we’re limited,” she said

Tiffany Throckmorton, owner of iMassage, agrees the new oversight is healthy for the industry.

“I think it will make clients feel that much safer,” she said.

Throckmorton said massage therapists in Walla Walla have good habits, but clients are educated about appropriate sanitation and do inquire about cleanliness, such as making sure sheets are fresh and cradle covers replaced.

The Department of Health will continue to work closely with law enforcement and other local authorities to coordinate many of the investigations involving massage, reflexology or other unlicensed individuals practicing massage, Weeks said in a news release.

Complaints against practitioners can be filed online at www.doh.wa.gov/AboutUs/DepartmentofHealth/Fileacomplaint or at 360-236-4700.

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