What Is Vision Therapy?

Vision therapy is a doctor-supervised, non-surgical and customized program of visual activities designed to correct certain vision problems and/or improve visual skills.

Unlike eyeglasses and contact lenses, which simply compensate for vision problems, or eye surgery that alters the anatomy of the eye or surrounding muscles, vision therapy aims to “teach” the visual system to correct itself.

Vision therapy is like physical therapy for the visual system, including the eyes and the parts of the brain that control vision.

Vision therapy can include the use of lenses, prisms, filters, and computer-assisted visual activities. Other devices, such as balance boards, metronomes and non-computerized visual instruments also can play an important role in a customized vision therapy program.

Overall, the goal of vision therapy is to treat vision problems that cannot be treated successfully with eyeglasses, contact lenses and/or surgery alone, and help people achieve clear, comfortable binocular vision.

Many studies have shown that vision therapy can correct vision problems that interfere with efficient reading among schoolchildren. It also can help reduce eye strain and other symptoms of computer vision syndrome experienced by many children and adults.

Problems Vision Therapy Can Correct

Vision problems being treated with vision therapy include:

  • Amblyopia. Also called “lazy eye,” amblyopia is a vision development problem where an eye fails to attain normal visual acuity, usually due to strabismus or other problems of eye teaming.
  • Strabismus. The success of vision therapy for strabismus depends on the direction, magnitude and frequency of the eye turn. VT has been proven effective for treating an intermittent form of strabismus called convergence insufficiency, which is an inability to keep the eyes properly aligned when reading despite good eye alignment when looking at distant objects.
  • Other binocular vision problems. Subtle eye alignment problems called phorias that may not produce a visible eye turn but still can cause eye strain and eye fatigue when reading also can be minimized or corrected with vision therapy.
  • Eye movement disorders. Studies have shown vision therapy can improve the accuracy of eye movements used during reading and other close-up work.
  • Accommodative (focusing) disorders. Other research shows near-far focusing skills can be improved with vision training.
  • Other problems. Other vision problems for which vision therapy may be effective include visual-perceptual disorders, vision problems associated with developmental disabilities and vision problems associated with acquired brain injury (such as from a stroke).

What Vision Therapy Isn’t

It is important not to mistake vision therapy for self-help vision improvement programs advertised online and on television that promise you can “throw away your glasses” after performing a series of eye exercises.

Such programs are not endorsed by the American Optometric Association or other professional eye care organizations, and there is no scientific research that supports the claim that self-help programs of eye exercises can reverse nearsightedness or other refractive errors.