A Sit Down – with Michelle Beatty 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 Michelle Beatty COVT
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I currently work with Dr. Philip Bugaiski at The Developmental Vision Center in Charlotte, North Carolina
How did you first discover Developmental Optometry?
When my husband and I first moved to North Carolina, so that he could work in racing, I was a bit lost in figuring out what I wanted to do. My past employment had been in the mental health field and I found myself here without the network and connections needed to find a good fit in that field. In order to meet our financial needs I sent out resumes for anything really just so I could find work. I answered an ad at an optometrist’s office for an administrative position and was called in for an interview. I found it strange during the interview that the doctor asked me more about my therapeutic background than anything related to the position. It turned out he thought I would be a good fit for something he called a Vision Therapist. I had never heard of this field and was fascinated by the subject. I went home from that interview and went about learning all I could about Developmental Optometry, unfortunately at that time there were not as many resources available as there are today so I had to dig.
Prior to discovering Vision Therapy, you worked in Behavioral Therapy, correct?
Yes my degrees are in Psychology and Art Therapy and I put them to use at a wide variety of jobs. I worked in schools for children with behavioral issues, a psychiatric hospital, and a private counseling office and worked with adults with developmental disabilities.
Do you find yourself pulling from your experiences in Behavioral Therapy when in the Vision Therapy room?
I absolutely do. I think the most valuable asset that I bring from my background is the understanding and application of the therapeutic relationship. It is crucial in working in this setting that the patient feels supported and safe to make mistakes without judgment. It also helps to have a deeper understanding of why a patient is acting in a certain manner and how that behavior serves that patient in their day to day life as a way of coping with difficulty. In addition my past experiences have taught me that learning doesn’t have to be tedious. In accepting that many of the things that we do in Vision Therapy are often downright weird and actually celebrating that weirdness I have found ways to make this type of learning a lot of fun. I call it coming to The Dork Side of Vision Therapy and my patients are happy to join me there!
In 2005, you attended Dr. Bob Sanet’s seminars in Raleigh, North Carolina which is a 100 hour teaching, spread over five weekends throughout the year. What can you tell us about that class and the knowledge you gained?
Prior to attending this series I had only had one other opportunity for training outside of my office. I attended the COVD Annual Meeting in 2002 in Fort Lauderdale. At that meeting I had the pleasure of attending a course taught by Dr. Sanet. Walking out of that meeting with the tools that Dr. Sanet provided was the first time that I felt ready to do Vision Therapy and do it well. Several years later when I was provided with the opportunity to attend the 100 hour course and I was so excited for the opportunity. In this series was all that I had learned through the previous course but it was so much more in depth. It helped that we could take our time with concepts and the activities in a setting with other people who felt as passionately about VT as I did and still do.
After leaving Developmental Optometry to start a family, you returned to the VT room a few years later compliments of a connection you made at Dr. Sanet’s seminar. Can you tell us about that?
As I mentioned previously about meeting others who had a passion for VT, at that seminar I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Phil Bugaiski. You could tell in speaking to him how much he loves this field. At the time of the seminar Dr. Bugaiski was in the process of opening his own practice. Upon hearing him speak of it I could visualize myself in that type of supportive, caring and dynamic setting. I kept in touch with Dr. Bugaiski after that meeting with hopes that circumstances would at some time in the future allow me to go to work for him.
After leaving my previous office, which was difficult, I had a son and was a stay at home mom for three years. On the day that I finally decided that I was ready to go back to work the office manager from Dr. Bugaiski’s office called me to see if I was interested in coming in for an interview. It was almost like it was meant to be.
You completed your Vision Therapist Certification (COVT) in Orlando in 2013. What the process of certifying like?
Certification was something that I had wanted for so long, since my previous office, though it was not a possibility since the doctor I worked with was not an FCOVD. When the time was finally right to go about the certification process I took to it like it was a second job. I studied non-stop and read every resource I could get my hands on. I had set the intention that I would finish the process in one year which I achieved.
I wish in looking back I had taken my nose out of the books long enough to really enjoy the process instead of stressing myself out about it so much. I focused so much on that one thing that might be asked of me that I might not know and forgot to focus on the things I already knew and knew well. On the day of my oral interview I was an absolute basket case. I wandered around that beautiful resort with my nose in a book trying to wring out one last piece of knowledge that might save me in that interview. It turned out the stress was unnecessary. That interview that I stressed about so much turned out to be very much like a conversation about something I love doing. I should have known it would be much like that since we all work in a field that is focused on helping others to be successful why shouldn’t the same apply to therapists as well.
I guess that would be my advice to those going through the certification process. Assemble a great team around you, this includes a mentor (mine was Tom Headline, COVT who is fabulous for those who don’t already know 🙂 ), and enjoy the process knowing that the IECB team sincerely wants you to succeed.
Working in Vision Therapy while having young children of your own at home certainly places you in a unique position of possibly identifying with the parents you meet professionally. Do you find yourself becoming overly quickly empathetic for this reason?
I am not sure it makes me overly empathetic but I do feel I can more readily relate to how hard it is to be a parent. I know how hard it is to fit in one more thing along with homework and all of the other things that go into raising a child. I think this has made me more cognizant of how I assign VT home support activities. We as therapists know that the time investment practicing at home means greater outcomes but it is sometimes hard as a parent to know when and how one more commitment will fit into your life and your child’s life. I try as much as possible to find ways to make these activities flexible to meet their schedule but consistent to ensure that the time spent practicing is meaningful.
Many people have intimated that the reduction of recess time, or unstructured play time, in elementary schools over the last decade significantly correlates to the increase in the need for ADD/ADHD medications. Do you feel this argument carries any weight?
I absolutely agree that there is a correlation here. Many of the children that I work with in the therapy room come with the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD attached to them. Despite this diagnosis though these children when given the opportunity “warm up”, as I call it for each session, with an activity that requires gross motor movement have no little to no problem sitting and attending for the remainder of the session.
As we all know children have a lot of energy and when they lose the opportunity to expel that energy through play there are bound to be repercussions. Children are not meant to be inactive, unfortunately our world is becoming increasingly sedentary. This bothers me not just as a therapist but as a mother too. I see how much of my son’s first grade day is spent at a desk and looking at a computer screen and it saddens and frustrates me. He is not given the opportunity to interact as much as I would like with other children and learn the social skills he will need for the future. As the late great Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) once said “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” I truly believe that children need the opportunity for unstructured play not just for the necessary physical development but to build the ability to problem solve through creative play.
With your background, where do you sit on the issue of medicating children in terms of choosing medication over less invasive therapeutic interventions?
There are certainly some children out there that benefit from these medications; however, I have yet to meet one of them. I truly believe that it is up to the adults/schools around that child to arrange conditions that fit the needs of that child. A child acting out in the classroom but able to attend to activities of their choosing at home for hours at a time is a sign that the child is asked to do something in the classroom that they are not ready/prepared to do. Children should not be penalized with medication as if there is something wrong with them and they are somehow sick or damaged. I believe strongly it is more important to look at the conditions surrounding that child that are making this child react and change those first before exploring medication as a possibility.
As a Vision Therapist, is there a patient age range of patient that you enjoy working with most?
If you had asked me that question six months ago I would have told you that my favorite hands down were the spunky eight and nine year old boys. I love the energy they have mixed with a bit of attitude. Recently though I have had the opportunity to work with some really amazing adults. I find myself really looking forward to these sessions since I have the opportunity not to just show and do but to really explain the why to these patients. There is one patient in particular a woman who came to us after suffering a concussion a year and a half ago. As many therapists know dealing with any kind of brain injury is complicated and often intimidating but I am really enjoying the challenge associated with assisting this woman in finding a new normal.
Lastly, your employer, Dr. Phil Bugaiski is a friend of mine and I look forward to seeing him at various conferences every year. He is a unique mixture of playfulness, kindness, compassion and heart. In your view, how important have his attributes been in support of your personal success, and the success of your patients?
It is really Dr. Bugaiski’s outlook and attitude that drew me to want to work for him. He had a passion and vision for this office that has come to fruition and made this a wonderful place to work. In addition to being a supportive work environment this is an environment that offers a safe place for our patients to practice being successful. Our patients really love him dearly and look forward to each moment they get to interact with him. We will often see him down on the floor playing with the younger children or joking with the older ones and it keeps us energized even on those long days when we are struggling to keep going.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Michelle for taking the time out for this interview. She truly is a great inspiration and it is a pleasure to feature her this week! We are lucky to have her among us as a COVT! Please join me in wishing Michelle and her family the absolute best! 🙂