by Julie Petteruto, 2017 COVT of the Year
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Developing a skill through study, observation and practice; this is how art is defined by one dictionary. Artistic abilities are developed over time and we, as vision therapists, can view our activities as our medium of expression. For example, a beginning art student may start with a paint-by-numbers-type project: rigid guidelines explaining what color to use in a specific place, that, when followed, makes a complete picture. By applying those same principles, a student would continue to advance and soon they may even be commissioned to paint a masterpiece.
Vision therapy is very much like being commissioned to create masterpieces. Our instruction sets are sometimes very paint-by-numbers, and other times we are given artistic freedom of expression within the confines of the commission. The goals set optometrically by the OD, academically or socially by the parent, and personally by the patient, are our commission. Let us examine our art form.
Developing Artistic Skill Through Study
We can become confident, artful vision therapists through acquiring knowledge of vision therapy history, therapy techniques, and patient information. Knowing the “why” of VT gives our art finesse by way of appropriate loading and unloading. Understanding the mechanics of a technique or the function of a tool used in the VT room gives us authority as its user and equips us with the ability to change lives. We must always remember that we do not “do vision therapy” to someone. We set up the appropriate circumstances for that specific person in order for them to create success.
Be your own education advocate. Use the library in your office. Ask the OD on your team to share any interesting case reports or journal articles that they have found that may expand your VT vocabulary. Join the Vision Therapist ListServ. Attend study groups in your area, regional vision therapy conferences, and the COVD Annual Meeting.
Get to know your patient. Ask your OD about their experience during the exam. Did they have an awareness of why they came to the office? What type of personality do they/their parents have? What are their goals? What optometric challenges are they currently facing? What other modalities of care are they benefiting from, either now or in the past? What’s the plan for treatment? What type of home reinforcement are we expecting from them? This information helps set the canvas of your commissioned masterpiece. It is a snapshot of what to expect, not a definition of who they are.
Expand your VT through Observation
Expand your periphery so as to pick up on the subtle communication your patient’s body is giving you. Ask yourself: What is happening head to toe? Is there a head tilt or turn? Do the shoulders round? Are they centered in their chair or at the desk? What are their feet doing? What is the muscle tone of their body? Are they breathing normally? What is their coloring like? Can they converse with me while doing the activity? What is the quality of their voice? These answers reveal to us if we have set up the appropriate load and circumstances for this specific patient.
Some of the most valuable learning can be done by watching another vision therapist execute their own signature style. Take advantage of visiting other offices or attending hands-on workshops. Adopt what you like, make it part of your own signature style. Observe your OD in therapy. If their schedule doesn’t allow them to be in the therapy room very often, ask them why they chose vision therapy. Hearing about their love of VT and their definition of vision will spark communication in the team.
Practice Makes Progress
Every patient, parent, family and professional is going to teach us. Practice helps us refine our abilities and develop our artistic style. Keep your instructions simple. Make direct application of the activity to the patient’s goals. VT becomes priceless when a patient appreciates the value of VT and applies the principles learned, so take interest in what the patient is interested in.
By studying, observing, and practicing our art of vision therapy, we can do so much beyond improving their vision. In refining our skills, we can become what our patient needs, set up the circumstances for their success, and create true masterpieces of our patients’ futures.