A Sit Down – with Paula Peachey COVT
This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Paula Peachey COVT
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I am the Practice Manager and senior vision therapist in our two offices. We are located on the border of New South Wales and Victoria, Australia. We are 300km from the closest capital city. I have the opportunity to work with my husband (Nathan – an optician) and family. Our practice was established in 1967.
How did you first discover Developmental Optometry?
Funnily enough, as a patient. I was working in corporate banking and having difficulty when looking from my computer to the end of my office after a short period of time, and was suffering considerable asthenopia. I was becoming less efficient in my job and compensating by spending additional hours behind the desk, or took my work home to complete to meet deadlines. All came to a head one day, with me ending in tears and my fiancé laughing and telling me I should talk to his father (Graham Peachey) as he was pretty sure I needed vision therapy.
How did you make the transition from banker/VT patient to Vision Therapist?
Soon after Nathan and I married, circumstances changed and I became the manager of both practices. Although, I was so fascinated at the improvement I had made to my own functional vision efficiency, I was eager to help others achieve the same. Thus my educative journey commenced. Every time I heard a parent tell someone else about the changes their child made after resolution of their visual deficits and dysfunctions, I welled with pride. I still do.
As part of your career transition, you attended Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) for what reason?
I studied Optical Dispensing at RMIT. It was great fun. Going in as what was considered a “mature aged” student and paying my own way gave me great motivation to do well. What I learned at RMIT not only gave me an optician’s qualification (which makes me pretty handy around the office), but gave me such an insight on lenses and how they can be used for support, manipulation or challenge within the VT room.
You completed your Vision Therapist Certification (COVT) in 2003 at COVD’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Can you describe your experiences with certifying?
The certification process was very straight forward. The most challenging part was to find a mentor. Realistically, I had the two greatest mentors, Graham and Maxine (previous senior therapist) Peachey in my immediate family. However, I felt that I needed a perspective from another office. From someone who practiced differently, someone who would challenge and push me further. Diana Ludlam kept me on my toes. Diana’s (late) husband, Dr. Bill Ludlam was one of Graham’s mentors, so it seemed like history repeating itself.
The COVD office staff were so supportive of me during this time. I was the first Australian to aspire to the post of COVT. They allowed me to take the MCE at my local university and then all I had to do was travel to Phoenix to undertake the oral exam – sounds easy doesn’t it.
In 2012, you received the COVT of the Year award at COVD’s Annual Meeting, certainly an accomplishment to be proud of! What can you share about that experience?
Being awarded the COVT of the Year was such an unexpected honour. Living so far away from the action, you can sometimes feel if you are the only girl on the island. Even on the plane on the way over, I still couldn’t figure out why this was awarded to me. I accepted the award on behalf of my family, who support me in all the crazy antics I get up to; and give great thanks to those therapists who have supported and inspired me along the way (Diana Ludlam, Lynne Getz, Linda Sanet and of course, Maxine).
Since you’ve now been a COVT for a decade, what advice would you offer the up and coming therapists considering certification?
Get up and get started! Read. Read. Read, then read some more. Once you accept the fact that you will never be able to know too much, and that you must keep learning and striving to be the best you can for each patient, you will do well. You must commit to self-education because you will never know it all. Continually put one foot in front of the other and always reflect on your own performance. Observe the same principles yourself that you expect your patients to adopt – always learn from your mistakes.
For parents who may be researching possible avenues to help their child, what are some good questions to ask the teacher at conference time, or anytime there might be a concern?
Apart from the obvious signs children can display in the classroom (covering one eye, skipping words, etc) that we are all aware of, I believe it is each parent’s responsibility to know how their child is performing in the classroom and not leave it to the end of the year conference. Schools (certainly primary schools) are now designed to make learning fun. Ask your teachers whether the child enjoys learning. If all is engineered correctly within the classroom environment and the child still does not settle to task, seems continually confused or distracts others, further investigation for functional vision defects, deficits and dysfunctions is warranted.
In your experience, what can parents do to make sure Vision Therapy is a positive and successful experience for their child, and for themselves?
Parents need to own the process of vision therapy. They need to accept your advice as to how to have a developmental attitude to vision therapy at home. Parents often express feelings of guilt or denial when they discover their child has a treatable problem. We can’t change that. We can only help them to move forward and to help their child to be the best they can be. The therapist should model the behaviours they expect the parent’s to adopt at home. Have the patient demonstrate assigned techniques to the parent/s and help the parent to use Socratic questioning and scaffolding to modulate the tasks.
As a Vision Therapist, is there a patient age range that you enjoy working with most?
I always say that being a vision therapist gives me an excuse to never have to “grow up”. I can still ride my scooter, build great Lego models, design computer games and fall off my skateboard (although it hurts a little more now than it did 10 years ago). Being in the position to help another person is humbling irrespective of their age. I love being able to help parents know about the visual development of their baby and toddler and how they can enhance that. Likewise, it is unbelievably rewarding helping a non-mobile elderly patient resolve convergence dysfunctions and reunite them with the joys of reading. However, as the parent of an eight year old (“Max” is pictured) who loves to learn about all things “new and cool”, I have a bit of an inside advantage to that age group.
I’d like to ask you about insurance coverage in Australia, specifically with billing VT, as most practitioners in the U.S. struggle with whether or not it is cost effective to accept insurance assignment for services rendered. What are your thoughts?
Our health insurance system is vastly different from yours. However, we don’t enter into insurance arrangements. The fee for service is the same for every patient. You couldn’t ask us to discount our level of service or commitment to each patient, why should we be asked to take a discounted fee? Our patients are predominantly private patients and if they are able to attract a rebate from their health insurance, we are happy for them. We do offer four partial scholarships each year as part of our community outreach program.
In the United States, there are times when Ophthalmology and Developmental Optometry have opposing views on the efficacy of Vision Therapy. Do you find the same to be true in Australia?
It is very much the same in Australia, as most of the research used to beat us with is American. Many ophthalmologists perceive vision therapy to be fruitless. Unfortunately, they do have some grounds for attack. Within Australian optometry, there lacks uniformity and a commitment to the observation of proven research. This causes confusion for parents, creates opportunity for “opinion and Doctor shopping” and muddies the water for vision therapy generally. Another profession only has to make the bullets, we fire them at ourselves.
Come October, COVD’s Annual Meeting is being held in Orlando, and sadly, you’ve shared you will not be making the trip this year. You certainly will be missed! In years past, what have you enjoyed most about the meeting?
I am disappointed not to be attending the meeting this year. I would have had the opportunity to pass the baton to the next COVT of the Year. At the previous meetings I have attended, I have found the camaraderie the most empowering. The quality of the education has always been excellent and the facilities very comfortable. The meeting also gives me another opportunity for self-reflection. What could I learn from others? Am I doing the best job I can do? What do I need to do more/better/differently? It helps me to remember that it is always the first impression that counts and to know that for every patent it is “opening night”, every time.
Some closing thoughts – A great thanks to Paula for taking time out to “chat” with me. Considering our time difference of 15 hours, I was concerned that there may be a challenge completing this interview in time to post on Friday morning, as has been my custom for my Sit Downs. Paula’s efforts made it seamless and easy! Interviewing her demonstrated why she is so successful and such a great Vision Therapist. Please join me in wishing Paula, her son Max, her doctor and her family the absolute best! 🙂
PLEASE NOTE: There will be no interview posted next Friday as I will be in Orlando all week attending COVD’s Annual Meeting. But fear not, my next Sit Down is already in the works and will post the following Friday, October 18.