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Someone who wants to become a behavioral optometrist usually follows a traditional path of studying optometry by completing his or her undergraduate studies and then enrolling in an accredited school of optometry. Those studies are often followed by, or supplemented with, an education in behavioral optometry, also called functional optometry or vision therapy. There are certain additional skills required to become a behavioral optometrist, including training in visual therapy techniques. Depending on your location, the most common ways of obtaining advanced training are to complete a clinical residency, or to attend one of the few academic programs specializing in behavioral optometry. Regardless of their particular specialties, doctors of optometry in most jurisdictions — including the U.S. — are required to be licensed prior to practicing.
Behavioral optometry is generally considered alternative or complementary therapy, because it involves issues that are not normally dealt with using conventional treatments. In addition to prescribing eyeglasses or contact lenses, a behavioral optometrist performs visual therapy exercises intended to strengthen the eyes or correct vision problems. Some examples of common difficulties this doctor might treat include issues with color perception, peripheral vision, and the detrimental effects of poor vision on fine and gross motor skills.
In order to become a behavioral optometrist, you should first complete your undergraduate education, followed by obtaining a degree from an accredited optometry school. Some schools accept applicants after three years of undergraduate training, allowing them to complete a bachelor's degree while also being enrolled in the optometry program; other students choose to earn their bachelor’s degrees and then apply to a graduate program. Regardless of your particular course of study, you are usually expected to have taken a broad range of courses to prepare you for a career in optometry. A standard curriculum usually includes courses in the sciences, both in the classroom and in the laboratory, as well as training to recognize eye diseases and to perform eye surgery.
Beyond the basic optometry program, additional training is typically required to become a behavioral optometrist. You can gain practical experience by completing a clinical residency in a specialized area, such as pediatrics or vision rehabilitation. An example of a helpful course for someone who wants to become a behavioral optometrist might be holistic methods of treating the whole patient, as opposed to concentrating only on the structure of the eye.
Behavioral optometry commonly addresses issues of hand-eye coordination and helping patients recover from a stroke or other brain or eye injuries. Many behavioral optometrists also see a causal link between vision problems and learning disabilities. To date, however, not much conclusive evidence exists regarding the effectiveness of vision therapy on certain learning disorders, such as dyslexia. Despite the controversy, there is still a demand for professionals in the field, and plenty of opportunities exist for someone who wants to become a behavioral optometrist.
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