A Sit Down – with Emilie Christensen
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 Emilie Christensen
For the benefit of our readers, can you offer a little information on your background and explain how you are involved in Vision Therapy?
I joined Rancho Santa Fe Optometry as the Vision Therapist in April of 2013. I was looking for a career change and the opportunity came up at a great point in my life. Since the doctor is also my Mother, it was an opportunity to help contribute to a family business that I’ve grown up with over the years.
How did you discover Vision Therapy?
My mom. She is an Optometrist and Fellow of COVD. Vision therapy has always been a part of her practice so I always knew what it was, probably before I really even understood it!
Did you have Vision Therapy as a child?
Absolutely! My mom made sure that I was enrolled as a patient at a young age, before I was ever behind in school or had any significant struggles. I attribute mydecent grades and fast reading abilities to having vision therapy at such a young age. Reading was always something that was expected in our family and both my brother and I grew up avid readers.
Your education in Graphic Communication sparks a creative side that comes in handy in the Vision Therapy room. Would you agree?
Yes. Although at one time I considered following my Mom’s footsteps as an Optometrist, my creative side always been such an important part of my life. What I think helps me both with design and vision therapy is problem solving. When someone comes to you in need of an identity or logo for their company, you take all the information, factor it in and then make all the pieces work to create the best end result possible. I feel like the same is true for vision therapy.
Patients come to you missing a few key strategies but know what end result they desire. It’s your job to help them add in those missing pieces and give them the ability to reach their end goal and peak potential.
You’ve also been given the opportunity to further your education this year, is that correct?
I started the COVT certification process a few months ago and couldn’t be more excited about it. It has pushed me to deepen my understanding of my patients as a whole yet be able to understand how each of their diagnoses relate and impact the work we do together. I have so many encouraging and inspiring people around me in the field and I continue to meet more every day that reinforce my decision to further my knowledge and understanding of behavioral optometry. It makes this process all the more meaningful and I am so excited to potentially be a certified vision therapist by April of next year.
Several therapists have written about the concept of “the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know”. For many, this sentiment is the mark of a great therapist as it symbolizes an insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding. As an up and coming Vision Therapist, I’m curious about your thoughts on this?
This is something I felt almost immediately and hit head on when I started the COVT process and began writing my first open book question. I think it is absolutely true that the more information and knowledge you seek, the more questions come up. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t receive any answers so there’s no way of knowing what you’re missing. At first, I’ll admit, it was extremely overwhelming. I had so many unanswered questions and felt like I was really lacking in experience and expertise to the point where I almost doubted my decision to start the COVT process. What I’ve come to realize is that it’s just that, a process. The open book questions are open because it gives you a platform to ASK the questions and find the answers in a more guided manner. They also give you the amount of time they do, knowing that you can’t do it all at once. I’ve found learning takes some time and if you don’t understand something the first go around, that’s ok. More than once, I’ve spent a week or more thinking about a certain topic to then have a conversation with someone new and unexpectedly have an absolute “ah-HA” moment where everything just settles and gels in your mind.
With that, you’ve entered the COVT process and hope to complete in Las Vegas next Spring. What has your experience been like thus far?
I’ve mentioned above my initial experience and I think along with realizing how much I didn’t know, it’s also given me more confidence. I received positive feedback in the areas that I did have a good understanding about and that has paid off in giving my patients a better experience. When you know that you’re doing the absolute best you can in helping someone, it in turn just makes you feel even better. Although my learning will be far from over at the end of this process, I’m excited to be able to have gained even more knowledge and confidence as a vision therapist and help that area of our office grow.
What advice would you offer someone considering the process down the road?
I would tell them to start sooner rather than later. It helps to really solidify what you do and don’t know so that you can improve, as well as boost your confidence as well as the confidence of people and patients that are coming to see you! It’s also a really good chance to work with other therapists and doctors in the field and build a great community that can serve as a resource and sounding board.
One thing I really enjoy about working with Vision Therapists such as yourself is that you’ve been around long enough to know your way around the VT room but perhaps not long enough to develop any bad habits. This makes a great environment for teaching, learning, and molding ideas and concepts. What is your perspective of this idea?
I think this is absolutely true in that I still don’t have many things I do in a set way and I’m constantly finding new or better ways that work for me. Although, one challenge has been learning how to sift through all of the knowledge and opinions, especially when there are two different views on a subject, and figure out how they both relate to me and my own ideas. Turning that around though, I think a big part of vision therapy is that there is no one single way to treat each patient and the fact that everyone (both patients and therapists) has a different learning style makes that for a great environment.
As a Vision Therapist who is still growing and training, do you ever struggle with appreciating your own value in the Vision Therapy room?
Everyday. Not only am I relatively new in the vision therapy profession, I also look young for my age in a practice that has a predominant amount of geriatric patients, some of which I also see in vision therapy. Parents of the children I work with also come in the office and have a predetermined idea of what it is I do. I sometimes struggle with feeling like I really do have sufficient knowledge and training. Although a quick conversation with my doctor and mentor can give me a boost of confidence that I do indeed bring value to the profession and need to sometimes trust myself more.
In your experience, what can parents do to make sure Vision Therapy is a positive and successful experience for their child, and for themselves?
Just like any other extracurricular activity that kids do, vision therapy requires time and patience. I usually try to find an activity or sport they like and equate it to that. You don’t improve over night and if you don’t practice, you won’t improve as fast. Parents that can understand that and help schedule the time it takes for both in office and home vision therapy will always have a child that is successful!
Lastly, many people interviewed here before you have described the camaraderie and the sense of family associated with COVD’s Annual Meeting. With last year being the first meeting you attended, what was your impression, and what will you look forward to this year?
Going solo to the COVD meeting last year was a bit daunting at first. I had only worked in our practice less than a year and had only been seeing patients on my own a few months at that point. I chose to attend a course before the meeting started and I’m so glad I did. I met a few other therapists that I connected with and felt such a warm welcoming feeling with the rest of the doctors and therapists as the week progressed. I have been looking forward to this year’s meeting to learn, meet and get to know more people in this amazing profession and build on the knowledge and friendships that I have already started from last year. I’m sure it’s an event I will come to look forward to every year.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Emilie for taking time out for this interview. Emilie and I met last year in Orlando at COVD’s Annual Meeting and over the last 10 months I’ve really come to respect and admire her strength, her intelligence, her compassion for her patients, and most of all her unyielding desire to learn and improve herself. Anyone spending more than 5 minutes with Emilie will quickly see how amazing she is and how life as a Vision Therapist really suits her. She definitely has a promising future in Developmental Optometry and we are all lucky that she is one of our fine representatives. Please join me in wishing Emilie and her mom, Dr. Liz Christensen, the absolute best! 🙂