Nancy E. Suchman, PhD, 63, died peacefully at home on December 25, 2020 with her husband at her side after a courageous battle with an aggressive cancer. At the time of her death, Nancy was an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Child Study Center who had made significant contributions to the science of addiction, parenting, and child development.
After spending much of her childhood and adolescence in the New York City area, Nancy left home for Cornell University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1979. Following graduation, she spent her early adult years leading high-adventure trips for Outward Bound, a national outdoor education program. After realizing, in her sentiments, that she could not live off the land, neither literally nor figuratively, she returned to school and completed a master’s degree in the sociology of education at Syracuse University in 1986 and then a doctoral degree in counseling psychology at Colorado State University in 1994 where, given her love of the outdoors, she continued to spend time pursuing high adventure in the Rocky Mountains.
Nancy returned to the Northeast to complete her predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System and then came to the Department of Psychiatry as a postdoctoral fellow in 1994 to join a new child and family research team being developed by Suniya Luthar under the mentorship of Bruce Rounsaville. It was here that she met Tom McMahon, the third psychologist in this nascent research group. Together, the three of them worked collaboratively for 10 years pursuing a series of related research projects with parents in addiction treatment and youth at risk to misuse alcohol and drugs.
With Suniya Luthar, Nancy developed a psychotherapy group for women struggling with drug addiction. This was one of the first clinical interventions grounded in an empirical conceptualization of the complex needs mothers bring to addiction treatment. Once she had an academic niche, Nancy devoted her career to the study of parenting as a critical issue in the lives of mothers, and fathers, affected by drug addiction. With the untimely death of Bruce Rounsaville, Linda Mayes at the Child Study Center became Nancy’s primary mentor as her work began to focus more clearly on the needs of women parenting infants and preschool children in the context of drug addiction. Over more than 25 years, Nancy was the principal investigator for a series of research training and independent research grants funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Much of her research was conducted in collaboration with The APT Foundation, a private-nonprofit, university-affiliated provider of addiction services in the greater New Haven area.
Nancy’s most significant academic contribution, and the one most meaningful to her, was the development of Mothering from the Inside Out, an attachment-based parent intervention. This empirically based individual psychotherapy is designed to help mothers grappling with addiction and other threats to effective parenting develop the capacity for reflective functioning in their relationships with their children. Over more than 15 years, she partnered with Cindy DeCoste, her project director, and a long list of co-investigators, consultants, clinicians, and research assistants to develop and test this clinical intervention. As this novel intervention captured the attention of the research community interested in the impact of addiction on parenting, she began an academic tour to speak, teach, and consult, not just in this country, but in Finland, South Africa, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
In addition to her peer-reviewed publications, Nancy was the principal editor of Parenting and Substance Abuse with Linda Mayes and Marjukka Pajulo of the University of Turku in Finland. This volume, published by Oxford University Press, quickly became the definitive professional reference on addiction, parenting, and parent intervention.
Over the years, Nancy made significant contributions to the personal and professional development of others. Among them are the mothers and children who have benefitted, directly and indirectly, from her clinical insights and the research assistants, graduate students, professional trainees, addiction counselors, and researchers who benefitted from her generous giving of her time and tutelage. On July 31, 2020, she was very pleased to see many of those people during a special grand rounds and reception organized by the Department of Psychiatry and Child Study Center to recognize her contributions to research, teaching, and service delivery.
When not at work, Nancy loved everything outdoors. Throughout her adult life, she was an enthusiastic hiker, cyclist, canoer, and cross-country skier. She also enjoyed gardening, reading, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. A long-time resident of Hamden, she especially loved hiking in Sleeping Giant State Park, often followed by a visit to Wentworth’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop.
Nancy is survived by her husband, Lionel Rigler; her brother, Anthony Suchman and his wife, Lynne Feldman; and her sister, Olivia Suchman. A devoted aunt, she is also survived by her nieces and nephews, Alexandra Suchman, Julian Suchman, Matthew Milner, and Danielle Milner. Her warm, compassionate, generous, and vibrant nature will be present in the hearts and minds of family, friends, colleagues, and mothers around the world for many years to come.
Because of limitations imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, funeral services will be private. Anyone interested in offering condolences to her family can contact Tom McMahon at email@example.com or Cindy DeCoste at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations may be made in her memory to the Sleeping Giant Park Association at https://sgpa.org/.
Prepared by: Thomas McMahon, PhD, Cindy DeCoste, MS, Amanda, Lowell, PhD, and Stephanie O’Malley, PhD.