A Sit Down – with Linda Sanet 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 Linda Sanet COVT
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
At the present time I am primarily working as a Vision Therapist at the Centro de Terapia Visual Skeffington in Albacete, Castilla La Mancha, Spain. I am also training Vision Therapists and assisting my husband Bob with the PAVE-Sanet Seminars. I help organize all of the arrangements with the hotel, prepare the equipment, and generally try to make sure everything goes smoothly. I am also in my second year of a three year term with the IECB of COVD.
How did you first discover Developmental Optometry?
I guess I would have to say that I came to Optometry through the back door. And it is sort of a long story, so I hope you will indulge me for a few minutes.
When I met my Bob in 1970 I thought I was on my way to a PhD in Philosophy. But I think it was Pascal who said, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.” And after a while I began to doubt the decision to continue pursuing the doctorate. I wrote to Cornell and told them I would not be coming in September, and took off on a road trip across the US with Bob while I pondered my decision.
We wound up in West Los Angeles. In September Bob began Optometry school at Los Angeles College of Optometry (which later became SCCO), and I took a job to help pay tuition, food, and rent.
During his 4 years at LACO Bob began a Vision Therapy program with Dr. Ralph Schrock. This meant travelling once a week from Los Angeles to San Diego (a trip of about 120 miles one way). Several years earlier he had been in a serious automobile accident that left him without a Superior Rectus muscle in his left eye, and with significant visual problems. When I met him he was wearing 14Δ of vertical prism to fuse. In San Diego Bob would have 3 or 4 therapy sessions during the day, and in-between those sessions, Dr. Schrock allowed him to work with patients.
I began to see many changes in Bob as a result of his Vision Therapy. He would come home very excited about his progress (he eventually eliminated all of the vertical prism and now measures no hyper.) He was also excited about the changes he was seeing with patients he had worked with, and that intrigued me. The excitement was contagious, and I decided that I wanted some of that.
When we had saved up enough money to take care of tuition and other needs, I quit my job and went to work in an office that provided VT. At first I was a volunteer, and did most of the “go-fer” jobs, but later they began to train me to work with patients. I soon realized that this was my true passion, and have been involved ever since.
Where did the idea of the “Motorcycle Vision Therapist” come from?
In 1984 I was asked by OEPF to write a series of chapters for Vision Therapists. I wanted these articles to be a departure from the traditional material written for therapists, and proposed my idea of Chautauqua – based on the tent shows that used to travel across America. The Chautauquas preceded radio and TV and were one of the primary methods of communication and transmission of ideas. Dr. Hendrickson, who was the Director of OEPF at the time was very indulgent and allowed me to proceed. In the first Chautauqua I proposed the idea of the “Motorcycle Vision Therapist.”
In college I had read a book that affected me deeply – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In this book, among many other things, Robert Pirsig speaks about the different approaches people might take toward maintenance of their motorcycles, which he sees as an allegory for the way we live our lives.
Pirsig’s friend, John carefully avoids giving any thought whatsoever to the matter and prefers to allow a mechanic to worry about and perform the maintenance. Pirsig on the other hand makes an effort to understand the tool kits and instruction manuals that come with the bike, and tunes it and makes the adjustments himself. He is prepared for unforeseen events as he travels across the country; John is not.
I 1980 I re-read the book and began to examine my life and particularly my work in the VT room. I thought about trying to be a “Motorcycle Therapist,” and doing things in a “Motorcycle Way.” In this case, the word “motorcycle” is used as an adjective and refers to the amount of thought, quality, and excellence put into a particular task. And as I trained Vision Therapists I hoped that I could motivate them to aspire to become “Motorcycle Therapists” as well.
You have also done some work with the Special Olympics, correct?
The opportunity to work with Special Olympics has been one of the best gifts I have ever been given. I became active in a program which at that time was called “Opening Eyes,” and part of the Healthy Athletes initiative.
Unfortunately persons with intellectual disability are an under-served population as far as health care. The goal of Healthy Athletes was to change that. Many health care providers have fear, hesitation, or uncertainty and will try avoid evaluating patients who are atypical or “not easy” to test. One MD asked why Bob worked so hard with a particular patient – “He’s re****ed, what difference will it make?” Also many of the older athletes are presbyopic, and we found that performance at near was often not considered when glasses were prescribed for them.
The goals of the program I was involved with were (1) to change minds and hearts; (2) to educate providers and give them tools and methods to successfully obtain valid clinical data from patients in this population.
We ran a series of programs called “Train the Trainer” where optometrists from all over the world were invited to become educated and learn. I am pretty fluent in Spanish and passable in Italian, so I was able to help obtain case history information and assist with some of the testing of the athletes. I can truly say that I received much more than the time and energy I gave.
You spent some time learning directly from one of the true guru’s of Developmental Optometry, Dr. Harry Wachs. What was that experience like and what did you gain?
In 1980 Bob and I were invited to attend a seminar on Orcas Island, off of Washington State. I was told that the location was beautiful, the food wonderful, and oh yes, there would be some CE. I had never heard of Harry Wachs and was only enthusiastic because of the opportunity to see a part of the US I had never visited and to eat some fresh salmon.
Well, Harry totally knocked my socks off and I can honestly say that I have never been the same since! In fact some have called me a “Harry Wachs groupie,” because for many years I followed him and his wife, Ruth around from lecture to lecture, across the US, to Spain, Portugal, and Italy. I will forever be grateful for his mentorship and friendship.
In my studies in Philosophy I had become fascinated with Epistemology – which simply put is the theory of knowledge. I had wondered how do we come to “know” something, what does the word “knowing” mean? This bothered me in my Vision Therapy work, because I could see that there were some patients who went through the process and changed a great deal – not just in their visual process, but in their personality and many other areas of their lives. And then there were those who went through the program, became successful at the procedures, but made no profound changes in their vision or anywhere else. I wanted to better understand what was the difference between these two types of patients, and what I needed to do to improve as a Vision Therapist to have more of the former and less of the latter.
Harry introduced me to the Piagetian framework and how it was applicable to the work that we do. In a way my studies in Epistemology were a perfect preparation for what Harry was helping me understand. One of the main principles that has stuck with me is the distinction between “content learning” and “concept learning.” An example of the former might be the person who can name all of the parts of an engine, but lacks true understanding of what makes the engine work. Or the child who knows that 2 x 4 = 8, but when asked, “How much is 4 x 2?” tells you that he hasn’t learned the 4X tables yet. Both types of learning are important, but only one has the possibility of transforming a person’s life.
You completed your a Vision Therapist Certification (COVT) in1978, and since then the process has evolved quite a bit. How would you describe certification back then, and how has the process grown?
In 1978 COVD offered Certification for Vision Therapists for the first time, and I was among those in that first group to successfully complete the process. I recently found out from Jackie Cencer and Pam Happ that I am now the only active Vision Therapist from that first group!
In those days we had a series of Open Book Questions and an Oral Interview. The written exam became part of the process later. In the OBQ portion we were asked to define certain terms, demonstrate a knowledge of lenses and prisms, SILO, etc. We also had a set of clinical questions, where we were asked how we might proceed when a patient was having difficulty, gave responses that were different than we hoped for, etc. I felt that it was a fair assessment for an individual who hoped to become certified.
I will never forget my Oral Interview. Dr. Donald Getz was one of my Examiners and I was petrified. I knew him by name and by his books, but not as a person. He was so very supportive, and his patience helped me relax, become less tongue-tied, and better explain what I understood. I will always be grateful for the kindness he showed me that day.
Over the years, the process has evolved and been improved. I am happy to report that it is a “work in progress,” and hope that it will always be.
In 2001 you received the very first COVT of the Year award at COVD’s Annual Meeting, and the President’s Award at a subsequent meeting; both were well deserved honors. What can you share about those experiences?
I can only say that they were both amazing.
In those days recipients were not aware that they were going to receive an award. Typically the presenter would start with a series of “clues,” starting with more general information, and gradually getting more specific. The audience would slowly begin to include or exclude possible individuals until it became obvious who the recipient would be. I was still incredulous when I heard my name announced and was totally unable to speak coherently both times. I feel truly humbled, grateful, and honored to have been selected for those awards.
One lesson that continues to resonate for me is your idea that all therapists should remember that every negative patient experience is an opportunity to learn. For those of us seeing patients on a daily basis, this credo can be difficult to remember during a time of frustration. How have you maintained this mantra for so long, and in such great fashion?
I do not want to convey the idea that I am any different than anyone else. Often I do get frustrated and disappointed, and sometimes it is all I can do to go on. But when I am doing my best thinking I try to examine what I could learn from what just happened – or didn’t happen. Having been humbled many times has helped me to grow in many ways I could not have expected.
Your unparalleled passion for Developmental Optometry has taken you around the world to places like Spain, Mexico, and Italy – just to name a few. Do you enjoy the opportunities to travel abroad and spread your knowledge in this way?
I have to admit that I have been given many opportunities, both in the US and abroad. I have been invited to lecture and to train therapists, and to work as a didactic and clinical instructor at the Centro de Optometría Internacional in Madrid, which I did for 2 years. Many ODs and Therapists have graciously allowed me to observe them as they work with patients, and some have invited me into their homes as well.
I have learned to taste and enjoy many different types of food (horse, donkey, crocodile, octopus), and I love it when I am in a place where they are celebrating a holiday, as I like learning about different customs. The observance of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the south of Spain is simply amazing!
I have also learned that there are many different ways to get into and affect the CNS. And that in spite of the many differences in language, customs, and training, we are all united as a “family” with a passion to improve the lives of the patients we work with.
In many ways you have become a trailblazer, which includes your being the first COVT ever to serve on the International Education and Certification Board. What can you tell us about that experience?
It is still amazing to me that I was selected for this position. I have always been passionate about educational opportunities for Vision Therapists, and Certification is part of a process whereby Therapists are able to demonstrate what they know and their value to the profession. When I entered the world of Optometry, we were often considered as the “extra pair of hands,” and I heard it said many times that it was not possible for a Therapist to understand the visual process. So you can see that things have changed quite a bit! I am thankful to both OEPF and COVD for always supporting us.
At first I was a little apprehensive about how I would be accepted by the other Exam Board members, and if there would be “boundaries” that I could/should not cross. But Dr. Suchoff and the others on the IECB Board have been extremely supportive and have welcomed me unconditionally. I have learned a great deal from my review team partners (Drs. Rob Fox and Susan Oh) and I hope I am helping to demonstrate what a Vision Therapist might be capable of.
One of the projects in which I have been involved with is transforming the COVT certification process. Dr. Suchoff has given us 2 charges: (1) to make the process less daunting and more “friendly” to Vision Therapists, and (2) to raise the bar regarding competency for certification. To this latter goal I have been involved with revision of the Multiple Choice Examination.
When those in Developmental Optometry discuss the best Vision Therapists to have ever practiced, your name is always included in the conversation. In fact, arguments might be made that you should be first on that list. How does that make you feel?
I feel very humbled and undeserving. I have been so very fortunate to have had many teachers and mentors who shared their knowledge with me so very freely, and patiently. When I was a student at the Optometric Center of New York (which later became the SUNY College of Optometry) I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from so many of the “rockstars” of Developmental Optometry. Some of them were my instructors, others allowed me to observe them in the clinic or to visit their offices. Others gave me books to read (we had no Wikipedia in those days!) When I left school I had the good fortune to meet Lora McGraw, Diana Ludlam, LaRene Smith, Ellen Severtson, Lynne Dukes Getz. These women took me under their wing and nurtured me in so many ways.
And during the years I have had many opportunities to meet and learn from so many more. I hope that I am still learning.
So many Developmental Optometrists and Vision Therapists currently practicing look up to you as an icon, and you have become a hero to so many of us, myself included. When you first began in Vision Therapy, did you ever imagine that so many people would want to emulate your methods?
When I first entered this field, as the “go-fer” in a VT practice, I was not sure that I would like working with children, or that children would like working with me. I continue to be amazed that I have overcome those doubts, although there are times when a young child can totally deflate my ego by telling me that I have “lawnmower hair” or that I am “probably too old to have a handsome boyfriend.”
As a new generation of therapists comes on to the scene, and those of us that have been around a little while continue to grow, what advice would you offer us as we move forward with our careers?
Before he passed at age 86 my dad told me how very lucky Bob and I were to have work that we loved. He confessed that he had never been happy in his job, and had always hoped to do something different. So I guess I would say to continue to love, learn, and be passionate about what you do. We have one of the very best jobs in the world. It’s pretty heady to think that you might have the opportunity to change a person’s life in a good way forever.
If you could waive your magic wand and change one thing within Developmental Optometry, what would it be?
That is a difficult question for me to answer. I continue to be optimistic about where the profession is going and the growing awareness and respect for the contribution Developmental Optometry can make. I see that the scope of practice is broadening – for example the inclusion of syntonics, primitive reflexes, and other therapeutic regimens; the populations we reach – persons on the autistic spectrum, those who have suffered an ABI. This is very encouraging to me and gives me hope for the future.
A hundred years from now when we’re all long gone, how would you like to be remembered?
I would like for people remember me as a kind person with a good heart, who loved life, and who wasn’t afraid to be goofy.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to my friend, confidant, and mentor Linda Sanet for doing this. I first met Linda in San Jose, CA when she was teaching a class for OEPF circa 2000. I remember thinking back then how incredibly passionate and knowledgeable she was and that perception has only grown in time. A few years later, we began working together at the Insight Vision Development Center in San Diego and remained co-workers for about 5 years before I moved to Texas. Learning first hand from Linda is a fantastic experience and the lessons I took away from that time continue to serve me to this day, as they were always offered with her gentle support in the background. Linda has always been an incredible inspiration for me personally, both in VT and in life, and it is with much gratitude and pride that I call her my friend. Please join me in wishing Linda, and of course her husband, Dr. Bob Sanet, the absolute best! 🙂