Conventional medicine grew up slowly as people discovered more and more about the human body and, in particular, about the effect on the body of various treatments. So, conventional medicine is based on a set of rules created by trial and error which, for most people, produce the desired result.
Thus, if you have a headache, conventional medicine prescribes a pain killer which works by blocking the pain signal to the brain and thus preventing you from experiencing the discomfort. The result is usually success: you can walk away and in a short while the headache will have stopped allowing you to go about your daily life.
Let's say, however, that the headache referred to above was caused by tension. Let's pretend, too, that tomorrow isn't a good day and tension again builds producing the same sort of headache.
Yesterday's cure was to take a pill that removed the headache and, since that worked then, today you will take another pill and everyone is happy. You're happy that you no longer have a headache, the drug company are happy because another pill has been sold and the person who prescribed the tablet is also happy, because they cured another headache!
Holistic treatments, however, work in a slightly different way. The first task of any holistic practitioner is to try and establish what is causing the problem. That is, holistic treatments begin by looking for the root cause of the symptoms. Then, having found this, it is possible to treat the cause and not simply the symptoms.
We will apply this to our problem and use reflexology as the example treatment. The reflexologist is trained to take a full medical history by asking relevant but searching questions which would reveal, in this case, that the person seeking help is suffering from tension in their life.
Armed with this information it is highly probable that the headaches are the result of tension and further conversation reveals that this is most probably the case. The reflexologist then treats the stress problem with a course of reflexology designed to assist relaxation and thus reduce the effect of tension and so remove the problem that was causing the headache.
It is important to realize that this is a course of treatment rather than an 'instant fix' and so is longer and spread over a period of time. However, it is attacking the root cause of the headaches and, when successful, will lead to a situation where stress is reduced to such an extent that the headaches do not occur.
So, conventional medicine treats problems in a simple way by treating symptoms and applies previous learning to try to remove them. The basis of a holistic therapy is to find the root cause of a problem and then apply a treatment to remove or reduce it.
This is, of course, a generalisation for not all conventional medical treatments work this way or are this short sighted, but it is fair to say that all holistic treatments work in the way mentioned.
So, it will be seen that reflexology is a holistic therapy. Reflexologists take a medical history before beginning any form of treatment and, after this, the reflexologist will think about the answers and, along with their own opinions and observations, form a theory about the cause of the problem. Then reflexology works in harmony with the body to remove or reduce the underlying problem.
Having said this, reflexology is not, and should not be seen as, a substitute for medical treatment and works best if it is used in conjuction with such treatment. In the example above, the tablet can block the pain of the headache until the reflexology treatment has run it's course and the headache disappears naturally. At this point, the painkiller is no longer required.
In this respect, reflexology is very similar to other complementary therapies which aid or supplement medical treatment.