Lessons from Dr. Pepper: Time, Space and Meaningful Movement

Dr. Pepper at the OEP conference,
Pacific University School of Optometry,
Forest Grove, Ore.

It's not often you meet someone who changes your life. I was fortunate to have that experience in 1986 when, through interesting circumstances, I met Dr. Pepper.

Yes, there is a Dr. Pepper: Robert C. Pepper, optometrist, of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Early in my conversion from a classical to a behavioral optometrist, I attended a weekend seminar given by Dr. Pepper in San Jose, Ca. He was demonstrating a felt board exercise where you remember and match felt shapes. He asked for volunteers and, feeling cocky and confident, I volunteered.

A few minutes into the exercise, I was broken. I was back in grade school and didn't know the answer. I was reduced to a sweating mess in front of a roomful of my peers. Dr. Pepper who, even 20 years ago seemed a kind, fatherly figure, saw my broken state and eased me out of it. Shaken to the core at being reduced to helplessness, I had to know how he did that and how he restored me to a functional state.

Not long after that my wife and I made the trip at great expense to Dr. Pepper's office in Lake Oswego. We jumped on a full-sized trampoline (for hours), tapped a ball on a string back and forth, among other activities, learning to improve our timing, thinking and communication skills. We learned to "think, shift, then move." We learned to recognize when we had reached the threshold of understanding and function, and how to back down into our operational ranges so that information that we were processing once again held meaning. We learned that unless there is movement there is no learning, we had to keep going forward: "trust and go."

Dr. Pepper, in his wonderful way, created safety in which to learn, to go forward, to feel and understand.

Having experienced these states firsthand over a week's time, we knew exactly how children felt when they were beyond their operational ranges in school and therefore underperforming, and how to bring them back to meaning so they could learn.

Amazing experience.

We attended several workshops with Dr. Pepper after that, including one in which my wife volunteered to demonstrate a trampoline exercise in which on each bounce, you recite the answer to a complex, progressive math problem. Not being particularly skilled in math, she had to trust that Dr. Pepper wouldn't challenge her beyond her operational ranges. Her success at this task and others like it gave her the confidence to take on a graduate program and a whole new career. I took on a whole new field: behavioral optometry. That was more than 20 years ago.

Recently, we had the opportunity to revisit those days. Upon invitation to attend an Optometric Extension Program workshop and tribute to Dr. Pepper, we found ourselves at Pacific University School of Optometry in Forest Grove, Ore. I had been invited as one of 10 experienced practitioners of Pepper Stress Therapy, to teach his techniques to the next generation of optometrists.

Dr. Pepper, now 85 years old, was there the entire weekend to guide and encourage us. He now works primarily with educators in schools and one-on-one with a few behavioral optometrists. His techniques, as powerful and restorative as they are, have found relatively few knowledgeable practitioners in the United States and Europe. To follow in Dr. Pepper's footsteps, one must experience his process firsthand, choosing process over product, meaningful movement over rote exercises, to go in depth rather than to remain on the surface of life.

What a gift to see Dr. Pepper again, to let him know that many lives have been changed because of what he taught us, our own among them. He hadn't changed a bit.

Steven L. Goedert, OD is a fourth-generation optometrist. He has practiced in Redding for 30 years with an interest in Behavioral Optometry for 22 years. Shasta Professional Eyecare Center includes Dr. Steve Goedert and Drs. Curtis and Janet Newcomb, optometrists, and is situated at 1225 Eureka Way, Redding, CA 96001. (530) 241-9650. If you have a question you would like answered in a future column, email Dr. Goedert at: [email protected] (yes, two "nets").

is a fourth-generation optometrist who has practiced in Redding for 30 years. Shasta Professional Eyecare Center includes Drs. Steve Goedert and Curtis and Janet Newcomb, optometrists.
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3 Responses

  1. Canda Williams says:

    This is great stuff. When I was teaching elementary school in San Diego, I had a few students in "movement therapy", and both teachers and parents noted improvements in cognitive ability. One thing I remember being particularly effective, was having a child balance on a can and board (one foot on each side like a teeter-totter), and recite multiplication facts. How fun to know this may have come from Dr. Pepper!

  2. jg says:

    Thanks Dr. Goedert,

    I use some of these same principles with rehabilitation of brain injured patients. I guess Dr. Pepper has had some cross over into other disciplines as well.

  3. Linda Sawtelle says:

    Thanks for the article. I worked with Ray Gottlieb in the late 70's who did amazing work with Pepper Stress Training. The results he had were nothing short of miraculous with some patients. I hope there is some way to capture this great work and keep it growing in the future.

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