Controversial Contributions to Vision Science

By Paddy Kamen

discoveringIn the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Envision: seeing beyond, we touched on the controversial Bates Method of Vision Improvement. You may recall that vision scientist, Laura Sewall, Ph.D., author of Sight and Sensibility: The Ecopsychology of Perception, used a variation of the Bates Method to profound effect. The article, Vision and the Possible Humanwhile not idealizing Bates, does celebrate his scientific curiosity.

This article will look at the actual variation of the Bates method that Sewell practiced. We will also examine how the profession of developmental optometry views the contributions of W.H. Bates.

The woman who taught Laura Sewell to dramatically improve her vision was the late Janet Goodrich, Ph.D. Her daughter, Carina Goodrich, is herself a vision educator and has taken over her mother’s business, which is based in Queensland, Australia ( Carina Goodrich is also an author, having published The Practical Guide to Natural Vision Improvement[i], in 2010.

Carina says Janet wore glasses from age seven to 25, at which point she began to study the Bates Method along with the work of Margaret Corbett (a teacher of the Bates Method who also expanded on the work), in addition to Reichian therapy (emotional/psychological healing based on the work of Wilhelm Reich). At age 27, Janet had the vision-related restriction removed from her driver’s license and never wore glasses again.

Janet Goodrich consolidated the work of Bates, Corbett and Reich into her own method, which emphasized activities designed to decrease stress and increase relaxation in the visual system. She examined stress in the human body and its impact on eyesight. Goodrich trained instructors in her method and authored two books: Natural Vision Improvement[ii] and ‘How to Improve Your Child’s Eyesight Naturally[iii].

Carina Goodrich notes that in Bates’ era (1860–1931) the prevailing medical model was of the body as a kind of machine, with parts and systems generally considered as separate structures. At that time, the eye was thought to work like a camera. “Bates, an ophthalmologist himself, headed in another direction and dared to suggest that the eyes are nothing like machines and that their ability to capture light and process it into clear images in the brain was dependent on much more than just the physical structure of the eyes. As our knowledge of the human brain, and the effects of stress on every area of our health and wellbeing improves, Bates’ theories about eyesight only increase in their sensibility.”

Bates’ work has been refined a great deal over the past nearly 100 years, according to Carina Goodrich. “Yes he was wrong about some things. Nowadays we certainly wouldn’t suggest Sunning with the eyes open[iv]. It is, however the subsequent use and refinement of his work that helps to sort the wheat from the chaff. While his work still forms the basis of many things vision improvement therapists do today, they are usually quite different from what he originally proposed.”

Bates’ contribution to vision science has also been carefully considered by developmental optometrist, Dr. Leonard J. Press, the American Optometric Association’s vision and learning specialist, and optometric director of The Vision and Learning Center in Fair Lawn, New Jersey (

“Bates definitely made a contribution, primarily in his concept of learning to relax focus,” says Press. “People who do sustained close work definitely have a shift of their resting focus inward. The brain adapts to the fact you are doing extended close work and doesn’t believe that when focus out that you will stay there. So it holds on to extra tonus for near vision, believing you will come back to it. Bates understood that by consciously putting yourself in a position of relaxation or distance focus, however you do it, you are going to limit the progression of nearsightedness. And vision science has proved him correct on this.”

Many of Bates’ original training techniques are crude compared to what is done by developmental optometrists today, notes Press. “That’s where technology comes into play. There are many ways to reset focus to distance. For example, we can do this with accommodative rock lenses where one side stimulates focus and the other relaxes it.”

Press finds that Bates’ work has been elaborated into an holistic approach that is sometimes misleading. “I feel some of it is over extrapolated,” he says. As one example, he points to Dr. Jacob Lieberman’s EyePort system. “We have one here in the office and use it from time to time. While there is some good independent research that backs up its usefulness, it’s not a magic stand-alone tool quite in the way it is presented.”

Press is also eager to point out that vision therapy exercises, such as those that work on near and far accommodation, are only a small part of the work done by developmental optometrists. “Developmental optometry is the umbrella term for the field. And vision therapy is one of the applications within developmental optometry.”

The next article in this series will cover the kinds of vision problems addressed by developmental optometry in more detail.

[i] The Janet Goodrich Method, Australia, 2010. Also available as an e-book:

[ii] First published inAustralia 1985 by Greenhouse Publications and in 1989 by Penguin Books. Published in theU.S. by Celestial Arts 10 Speed Press. Now out of print.

[iii] First published in Australia 1996 by Sally Milner Publications. Now published in the U.S. by Inner Traditions (under the title How To Improve Your Child’s Eyesight Naturally).

[iv] Bates initially believed that the eye could be trained to look directly at the sun. He later changed his views and Sunning was defined as exposing the closed eyes to sunlight. See: