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Observational Studies:

Seeing the Unseen in Clinical Work

Two Year Program with an Optional Third Year Offered

Nydia Lisman-Pieczanski, M.D., Chair

The Washington School of Psychiatry is offering a two-year training program in Observational Studies as well as an optional third year for graduates of the two-year Observational Studies Program and also for students that have completed a two year Infant Observation in other Institutions.

The Program is conducted by a multi-disciplinary faculty of child, adult, couple and family psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, this two-year training follows the model of Observation Studies pioneered and developed by Esther Bick at the Tavistock Clinic in London.

This course is designed to enhance awareness and understanding of human development and interaction in all cultures and ethnic groups. Sharpening the ability to look closely at and attribute meaning to what is happening before one’s eyes strengthens the observer’s emotional and intellectual receptivity and capacity for professional work whether that work is in the field of social work, psychology, psychiatry, nursing, midwifery, teaching, child care, or any other allied profession.

Key psychoanalytic concepts applied to infant and young child observation, parent-infant psychotherapy and clinical interventions with children and parents round out the training to enable professionals to deepen their understanding and knowledge about the earliest anxieties and how these are present throughout life. Issues of separation, transitions, loss and trauma originate in infancy, but are challenges throughout life. The firm grounding in these areas enhances clinical skills with every age group and level of psychopathology. Observers come to comprehend both how relationships are developed and how we become part of each other’s world while recognizing the persistence of infantile patterns of behavior in later life.

In the third year, we move from observation to its application in clinical and professional work – in all areas of interventions with parents, families in brief intervention with infants and children under the age of five.

This third-year training will seek to expand the capacities for observation and reflection helping students to bear their own and others’ anxieties long enough to work towards new and creatives responses to problems. Several techniques will be used as part of the two hour seminar.

Learning To Observe and To Wonder

Observation is more than simply looking. It involves the observer taking in, and holding in mind, the shared physical and emotional experiences of the baby or young child and his family, while attempting, in time, to construct meaning from these experiences. In bearing witness to the intimacy and intricacies of the evolving relationship between a baby and its caretakers, observation promotes a deep appreciation for the manifest and latent processes that underlie child development.

The Work Discussion seminar of the Observational Studies Program provides a unique opportunity for in-depth, up-close attention to detail of an hour of professional work. The student learns to develop and deepen skills in reflecting not only on verbal communication but, most importantly, on non-verbal behavior and its subtle meanings. In short, it hones skills in making the unconscious conscious and expands the possibility of what can be thought about and gives words to previously unthinkable thoughts. In this process, the unconscious internal world becomes more knowable and one's capacity for insight deepens and, thus, it enriches our relationships with others as well as ourselves.

Learning Objectives

  • Develop observational, reflective, and therapeutic skills
  • Understand communication and the therapeutic process
  • Gain a foundation for Psychodynamic thinking
  • Apply psychoanalytic concepts to current workplace practice
  • Learn together across professional boundaries to reflect and strengthen practice
  • Gain an increased understanding of the factors that promote healthy emotional development in individuals and families


Seminars will include a rich mix of theoretical, clinical and experiential learning. The small seminar format allows ample discussion time for each student and fosters the integration of a wide range of ideas and useful applications to their work settings. The curriculum, grounded in object relations and developmental theories comes alive and is vividly experienced in the weekly observation of a baby in the family.

We will explore many situations: 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, and many others. Through thinking together, students will build a deeper understanding of the particular emotional context in which these difficulties are arising, and develop ideas about effective interventions to relieve them.


Classes meet Monday evenings.

First Year: 5 pm to 8 pm

Second Year: 5 pm to 8 pm

Optional Third Year: 6 pm to 8 pm (This program will begin in September of 2019).

Eligibility And Selection

Applications are welcome from:

  • Mental Health Professionals
  • Medical Practitioners including Nursing Practitioners
  • Case Workers in Public and Private Organizations
  • Professionals working in Protective Services, Prisons, Social and Probation Services
  • Teachers

Application forms are available on the school website at

All levels of experience are welcome. Given that students entering the program may come from different areas of interest and training, each student’s development in the program will be closely attended to by a core faculty member.



Nydia Lisman-Pieczanski, M.D., Chair
Sharon Alperovitz, M.S.W.
Clare Beeny, MA
Deborah Blessing, M.S.W.
Rose Debenedetti, MA
Elizabeth Hagerman, MA BC-DMT
Elizabeth Hersh, M.D.
Rachel Kaplan, M.S.W
Maria Filipe Martins Lima, PsyD
Alberto Pieczanski, M.D.
Silvana Starowlansky-Kaufman, M.S.W.
Nilgun Taskintuna, MD
Nina Van Sant, MSW.

This Program partners with “Mind in Mind” an Infant Observation and Counseling Center in Beijing, China. All their Members are graduates and members of the WSP.

Our program is part of the “International Association of Infant Observation Esther Bick Model”.


Tuition for the academic year is $2,350. Books and study materials are not included.

Individual supervision is offered.

The $50 application fee is nonrefundable.

Limited scholarship money may be available, based on need and merit.



Scholarship Application

WSP has very limited scholarship funds. However we will try to help students with a payment plan and scholarship where possible.

About the
Washington School of Psychiatry

Celebrating its 80th year, the School is an accredited provider of post-graduate continuing education.

The Meyer Treatment Center provides low cost access to mental health services. It is an out-of-network facility for insurance purposes.

The Washington School of Psychiatry is an independent non-profit organization. It is not affiliated with the government of the District of Columbia or the government of the United States.

Location and Telephone

5028 Wisconsin Ave NW #400
Washington DC 20016

202-537-6050 Treatment Center

202-237-2700 School

202-237-2730 Fax




Washington School of Psychiatry

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