Vision Therapy: Myths and Misperceptions

Mention the phrase “vision therapy” to some people, and they will raise the same skeptical eyebrow that greets talk of get-rich quick schemes, magic diet supplements and psychic hotlines.

Concepts and programs that are new often fall victim to myths and misperceptions, and this is certainly true in the case of vision therapy.

Over the years, we at Keystone View have heard first-hand many of these doubts and concerns. Here, we’d like to take the opportunity to address some of them:

My understanding is that vision therapy involves having the child watch a bunch of colored lights.

A successful vision therapy program is much more than having your child sit in front of the Christmas tree for a few minutes.

In 1996, the American Optometry Association (AOA) defined optometric vision therapy as “an individualized treatment regimen prescribed for a patient in order to:

  • Provide medically necessary treatment for diagnosed visual dysfunctions
  • Prevent the development of visual problems or
  • Enhance visual performance to meet defined needs of the patient.”

Some examples of recognized vision therapy techniques include the Brock Technique for strabismus (crossed eyes), incorporating slides and filters; the Zweig-Bruno tracing procedure for hand eye coordination; and the multi-faceted Van Orden program, which is used to enhance visual aciuty and learning skills.

Vision therapy can be conducted on-site at a medical facility – optometrist’s office, school or workplace health center – or at home.

It sounds like it might be a scam – any science involved?

Vision therapy was developed as a type of physical therapy uniting the functions of the eyes and brain.

According to the AOA, optometric vision therapy is effective in the treatment of physiological neuromuscular and perceptual dysfunctions of the vision system and is appropriate non-surgical treatment for visual conditions including, but not limited to:
Strabismic (crossed eyes) and non-strabismic binocular dysfunctions
Ambylopia (lazy eye)
Accommodative dysfunctions (eye alignment)
Ocular motor dysfunctions and visual motor disorders (for example – hand-eye coordination)
Visual perceptual (visual information processing) disorders.

Note: In the case of learning disabilities, optometrists do not claim that vision therapy is a direct treatment for learning disabilities. Rather, vision therapy can help to resolve visual problems that interfere with reading and learning.

Unfortunately, as with many legitimate health procedures, unqualified and questionable practitioners have emerged in the field. A person seeking vision therapy is advised to first seek the counsel of a reputable and licensed optometrist.

Additionally, the consumer advocate website offers the following advice: “If you are considering a vision training program, request a written report detailing the problem, the proposed treatment plan, an estimate of the time and costs involved, and the prognosis. If the plan is not targeted toward a specific visual problem (such as amblyopia), or if it includes a broad promise such as improving I.Q., forget about it.”

Insurance will not pay for vision therapy.

True, insurance companies are cutting back on costs and coverage in today’s economy. However, according to Dr. Leonard J. Press, author of the book Applied Concepts in Visual Therapy (, patients can be effective when pursuing their claims directly with their insurance providers. As an additional resource, the College of Optometrists in Vision Development has an insurance committee that can conduct peer review of claims if it is obvious that the insurance company claims reviewers are not optometrists (888-268-3770).

Studies haven’t shown any benefit.

A number of scientific studies have documented the positive impacts of vision therapy upon a wide range of conditions, including convergence disorders and amblyopia (lazy eye). A sizable list of citations has been compiled by Dr. Bill Rainey at the Indiana University School of Optometry: