Syntonics – Introduction

Dr. Boulet

I’d been critical of the practice and ‘science’ of what behavioural optometrists call ‘Syntonics’ or ‘Optometric Phototherapy’ for some time, now, concerned even. These concerns of pseudoscience and malpractice have led me to speak out against its practice in a professional clinical context. Because of that, I was removed from the ‘VTODs on FaceBook’ group (Vision Therapy OD = Doctor of Optometry), a group that has been a safe haven for the marginal practices in vision rehab for some time.

As a clinician who prefers to lean on science before fantasy and ‘art’, I felt compelled to finally take the initiative to complete the Syntonics 101 program, to become certified, to get the details. Ethics compels us to be honest in our research, balanced, to not speak without knowing. So, now I know.

If you’ve not heard of Syntonics, or the College of Syntonic Optometry, feel free to follow the embedded links. The provided reference list to support the practice of ‘syntonization’ can be found here. In brief, Syntonics is based on a simplified presentation of the balance between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems, with references to antiquated psychological constructs around body morphology, notably elaborated and formalized for psychology in the 1940’s by William Sheldon.

  • Pyknic (“pike-nik”) aka ectomorphic, so parasympthetic dominant (PSNS)
  • Aesthenic (“ess-thenik) aka endomorophic, so Sympathetic dominant (SNS)
  • Syntonic – aka mesomorphic, so well-balanced autonomic nervous system (ANS)

Pyknic and Aesthenic body types are said to come with certain medical, optometric, and personality risks which should be addressed through a push to the ‘other side’, so if ‘too parasympathetic’ in posture and presentation, we as clinicans are told to apply light stimulating sympathetic responses to the eyes in order to promote this movement towards syntony, or ‘rebalancing of the autonomic nervous system’.

The practice of Syntonics involves application of specific wavelengths of light to the eyes through filtered light (either by wearing filters over the eyes, or by projecting filtered/coloured light into the eyes using powered devices rather than ambient light. Frequencies are related to wavelengths in an inverse fashion: Higher frequency, lower wavelength. Blue light is short wavelength, high frequency, red light is long wavelength, low frequency. As a guideline, light are applied to the eyes for 10 minutes at a time for 20 sessions. The choice of filtered light appears to be based on some principles of body type, but also based on patient history, and optometric findings. Given the clinical guidelines are so vague, Syntonics instructors concede that choice of light to start therapy is really a matter of ‘instinct’.

It is true that photobiomodulation (PBM) has been observed in many instance, and it is true that laser and Low Level Laser Procedures are shown to assist and accelerate healing in a growing list of contexts – indeed, both medical and aesthetic. Fox and Stern (2023) provide a helpful survey of some of the areas where light is known to have an impact of life and in medical practice.

“Photobiomodulation or modulated light therapy is being used to treat a wide variety of conditions such as wound healing, brain trauma, Alzheimer’s disease, pain management, and sleep disorders. Today the vision care community has the opportunity to use devices that deliver modulated light through the eyes for macular degeneration, dry eye, myopia control, amblyopia, and other ocular conditions. In addition, treatment is available for photosensitivity, migraine headaches and the sequelae of brain injury. Here, we present an overview of the latest research and clinical applications of photobiomodulation both for present use and future applications.”

They go on to say that Syntonics is a ‘form of PBM’. There are a few critical issues to attend to, and I’ll attempt address a few here now, with more to come later. The most important messages for now are

  1. There is no robust or formal written or clinical support for the claims made around Syntonics in particular, even though it has been compared to PBM in current use.
  2. The shaky medical and scientific reasoning behind the use of Syntonics appears to be similar to the suggestive nature of Homeopathy.
  3. Any purported benefit for the application of a rarified light for 10 minutes, implying the restriction of other wavelengths, is immediately negated when the client goes outdoors where are inundated with an ocean of intense full-spectrum light.

There is worrying trend among VTODs to insist on Syntonics before, during, and after therapy sessions, and before it even starts, after therapy ends. People are charged for an assessment, and then for treatments. In one instance, about $190 for the assessment and $120 per week for therapy including equipment, but glasses and other treatments are over and above that. These rates are low compared to the American market and elsewhere, apparently.

In a short survey of practicing Optometrists shows the following:

42% Are aware of Syntonics but neither offer nor recommend it.

52% Are aware of Syntonics.

5% Are aware of Syntonics and either recommend it or use it in clinic.

1% Practice other forms of PBM, such as Low Level Laser.

After spending days scouring the Planet for supporting documentation, reviewing what was out there, and then finally taking the Syntonics 101 program and gathering what literature and documentation the College of Syntonic Optometry had to offer, I’ve concluded a few things that clinicians would do well to heed, if not for clinical reasons, then for medical-legal ones. Indeed, the Syntonics 101 program was hosted based on Sydney, Australia time – 18 hours ahead of me in Canada.

  • Doctors of Optometry with a science background cannot and should not support the pseudoscience of Syntonics, despite its similarity to formal accepted PBM practices in medicine
  • Doctors of Optometry should practice within scope and avoid broad and wide sojourns into speculation about people’s emotional or mental states based on body morphology.
  • Doctors of Optometry should neither offer Syntonics as a viable cure and they should certainly not charge for it without offer copious warnings and caveats about what people get for their money.

Aside from my own office in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, from where I attended, there were participants from Asia, USA, and Poland – about 22 students in all. The two doctors from Poland had to endure two all-night presentations given the time differential between Warsaw and Sydney; they were seeking hard answers given they were being sued by a strabismus client who was treated with Syntonics based on taught principles, but against their surgeon’s advice. The sad fact is there is no proof, and the best advice to doctors to read about PBM and Syntonics, but to spare the cost to practice and clients by avoiding its formal use in clinic for a fee.

I might well comment further on Syntonics down the road since I have now initiated formal writing on the subject. I am left with a sinking feeling that given Vision Rehab is a growing help in rehabilitation, it is still attached to questionable past and present practices, leading to great doubt, ridicule, and scorn from Ophthalmology. To make matters worse, there is zero publishing to support the practice of Syntonics. And who can blame thinking professionals for looking askance at pseudoscience? By formalizing Syntonics be implementing it in practice, we degrade the great work that is being done by conscientious rehab doctors of Optometry, and a growing number of Occupational Therapists.

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