The Observational Studies Program

Next cohort begins September 2022. Application deadline is August 15, 2022.

About

Observational Studies: Seeing the Unseen in Clinical Work is a two-year training program conducted by a multi-disciplinary faculty of child, adult, couple, and family psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. The program follows the model of Observational Studies pioneered and developed at the Tavistock Clinic in London.

The Tavistock Method of Infant Observation was created by Esther Bick in 1948. Initially offered as a pre-clinical program for students hoping to be admitted for Child Psychotherapy training, the efficacy of infant observation as a training program for clinicians quickly became evident and its practice has now spread to more than 50 countries worldwide. Observation has proven to significantly enrich clinical work with any age group or population.

Over the two-year program, students engage with essential concepts designed to enhance awareness and understanding of human development and interaction across cultures and ethnic groups. Through a rich mix of theoretical, clinical, and experiential learning, students discover meaning in paying close attention to what is occurring in front of them and taking in as many details as possible, which are essential parts of observational training.

Students in the program come from different areas of interest and training, and can explore the applications of what they are learning to their own practice and work.

Applications are welcome from mental health professionals, medical practitioners including nursing practitioners, teachers and educators, professionals working in protective services, prisons, and social and probation services, and case workers in public and private organizations.

This program is for anyone who is interested in understanding psychodynamic ideas, the power of primitive anxieties, and how our earliest experiences stay with us over our lifetime.

Curriculum

The curriculum follows a small seminar format that allows ample time for discussion and fosters integration of a wide range of ideas into students’ professional settings.

Year One consists of a three-track seminar series: Infant Observation Seminar, Theory and Practice Seminar, and a Work Discussion seminar.

Year Two seminars consist of: An Infant Observation Seminar, Young Child Observation Seminar (alternating weeks with Theory and Practice), and a Work Discussion Seminar. The seminars explore many scenarios, including the impact of medical illness, sleep disturbances, feeding problems, postnatal depression in mothers, premature babies, bereavement, multiple births, abuse, and trauma on children and their families.

Students build a deeper understanding of the particular emotional context in which these difficulties arise, and develop ideas about effective interventions to relieve them.

Setting Up and Carrying Out an Observation

Students are asked and often assisted in finding families to observe. The family must be unknown to the student. Students are not permitted to observe their own family members, friends, close colleagues, or neighbors. Families are nearly always found through a third party which may include a faculty member who has learned of an interested family.

Each student is given a letter from the program chair(s) to bring to the family for the initial meeting with the parents. Both the family and the student are able to get a feel for each other, to raise questions about the nature of their commitment, and the student’s task. The letter and the observer’s explanations make clear that the observer is a student who wishes to learn about development in an up-close way. The family is assured confidentiality. The names of family members will not be known to anyone except the student.

The student, like the family, will come to know about the issues associated with the arrival of a new member of the family and how parents and siblings get to know the baby. At the heart of this learning is the appreciation for the upheaval to the established family order, and the renegotiation of how family life evolves. The student becomes familiar with the task of having to find and define a place within the family.

The student is a ‘friendly visitor’ who does not interfere with whatever is going on in the home. They simply observe what is happening along with their own internal responses to it. Initiation of play, picking up the baby, and other interventions are not permitted. The student has to bear whatever anxieties or uncomfortable feelings that are stirred up without discharging these through action.

The student may respond to conversation initiated by the caregiver or parent, or other members of the family. No notes are taken during the observation. After the observation, the student writes up what happened during the visit and their own responses in as much detail as possible. Students initially write up a one or two page observation. By the time they leave the program, they are usually writing five to seven pages. The program enables students to further their ability to capture and recall nonverbal, verbal, and interactive sequences.

Logistics

Many of the students and faculty in the program are from other countries or cultures. In some cases, students find families from their country of origin to observe. The program attracts students from Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, the Philippines, China, Turkey, Mexico, Israel, Lebanon, and beyond.

This multicultural exchange is one of the most powerful aspects of the program.

Each student is assigned an advisor who will work closely with the student for the duration of the program.

Classes are no larger than six people, but most often four to five. Each week one student presents one observation for 75 minutes and the group considers the content and meanings of what was observed. Each student gets to learn about one baby in a very deep way, and other babies and families more broadly. The smallness of the class size creates an intimate setting and an opportunity to thoroughly reflect on the material of the observation and the feelings surrounding it.

Classes meet from September to May in the evenings from 4:30pm to 9:30pm.

Class dates and location TBD

Tuition is $2,300.
The application fee is $150 (non-refundable). Click here to Apply Online

For more information about the Observational Studies Program, please contact the Co-Chairs:

Deborah Blessing, LICSW at  or
Silvana Kaufman, LICSW at