Observational Studies Program

Seeing the unseen in clinical work.

2-year training in infant and young-child development.
Next cohort begins October 2024. Application deadline is August 15, 2024.


Observation has proven to significantly enrich clinical work with any age group or population. 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.

Seeing the Unseen in Clinical Work is conducted by a multi-disciplinary faculty of child, adult, couple, and family psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. The training follows the model of infant observation pioneered and developed by Esther Bick at the Tavistock Clinic in London in 1948.

Over two years, 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 come from different areas of interest and training and explore the applications of what they are learning to their own practice and work, contributing to rich multidisciplinary exchange and understanding.

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.


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

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

Year Two consists of: An Infant Observation Seminar, Young Child Observation Seminar (alternating weeks with Theory and Practice), and a Work Discussion Seminar.

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

Cultural Insights

Students and faculty in the Observational Studies program come from many countries and cultures that have included Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, the Philippines, China, Turkey, Mexico, Israel, and Lebanon. As many students find families from their country or culture of origin to observe, multicultural exchange and perspectives become a powerful aspect of the program.

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.

Students are given a letter from program chair(s) to bring to the families for the initial meeting with the parents to describe what is involved. 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 and wishes to learn about development in an up-close way. Families are assured confidentiality. Their names 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 whatever the established family order, and the renegotiation of how things evolve. 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 response to it. Although they may respond to conversation initiated by the caregiver or parent, or other members of the family, interventions or initiation of play, conversation, picking up the baby, and the like are not permitted. The student has to bear whatever anxieties or uncomfortable feelings that are stirred up without discharging these through action.

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.


Classes will meet from October to May in the evenings from 4:30 pm – 8:35 pm.

Classes are no larger than six people, but most often four to five. Each week one student presents one observation for the 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.


Tuition is $2,350 per year. 
The application fee is $157.

To Apply

You will be asked to create a private account that you can return to as you prepare your application. What will be requested:

  • Comprehensive Curriculum Vitae.
  • A career narrative, including chronology of your career evolution.
  • Copy of Professional License(s), if applicable.
  • Two Letters of Recommendation.



For more information about the Observational Studies Program please contact the Co-Chairs: Deborah Blessing, LICSW at deborahblessing1@gmail.com or Silvana Kaufman, LICSW at kaufmansilvana@yahoo.com.

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