Advocate and Master Teacher of Family Therapy Dies

Sep. 28, 2009

The University of Rochester Medical Center mourns the death of Susan H. Horwitz, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry, a master teacher and clinician of family therapy and advocate for families. Dr. Horwitz, a faculty member since 1988 who studied interventions to prevent domestic violence, died Sept. 24 of brain cancer. She was 62.

“Susan was a remarkable person, at once warm and nurturing, and wonderfully assertive and self-directed,” said Eric Caine, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry. “In our region and beyond, she was a champion for victims and families fraught with domestic violence and brave enough to swim against the tide to advocate the use of couples therapy and therapy for perpetrators when clinically indicated and safe for victims. Susan supported such approaches long before others were willing to acknowledge the often complex and convoluted nature of family violence; she devoted herself to illuminating what others would not see.”

Susan H. McDaniel, Ph.D., director of the University of Rochester Institute for the Family, said Dr. Horwitz believed in the strength of families and the ability of family members to support each other and heal their relationships. She described Dr. Horwitz as “the heartbeat of our training program, touching the lives of so many of us in deep professional and personal ways.”

“She was passionate, and I mean passionate, about helping prevent and treat partner violence through research, clinical work, and professional education,” McDaniel said. “She was instrumental in facilitating and studying Rochester’s coordinated community response to partner violence. She also developed an effective couples therapy for mild-moderate partner violence. She was a revered and beloved teacher of marriage and family therapists, physicians, and many other professionals.”

Dr. Horwitz taught family therapy theory, research and clinical practice in the Institute for the Family’s Family Therapy Training Program at the University’s Medical Center since 1988. She was clinical supervisor for Strong Family Therapy Services and associate director for education of the Department of Psychiatry’s Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization. She also taught professionals in Finland, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, and New Zealand. Her students routinely praised her intelligence and teaching abilities, but also her compassion and commitment.

Dr. Horwitz also worked as a family therapist and a consultant to school districts regarding family issues, learning disabilities and mental health concerns for students and to courts for custody evaluations. In 2007, in an effort to identify the social and family pressures that compel women and men to return to and remain in violent relationships, Horwitz led  researchers in conducting interviews at Monroe County Family Court and at psychiatric and medical clinics. The ultimate goal of the project was to train primary care physicians and mental health care providers to screen their patients effectively so they can refer patients to appropriate community domestic violence services or support patients choosing to live in abusive relationships.

A native of Syracuse, Dr. Horwitz received a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in counselor education at the State University of New York at Brockport. She earned her doctorate from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati.

Dr. Horwitz is survived by her husband, Richard Horwitz of Penfield, two children, Rebecca Horwitz of Rochester and Jason Horwitz of Boston, Mass., her mother, Charlotte Hillsberg of Rochester, a sister, Margie Wilkov of Dallas, Texas, two grandsons and several nieces and nephews. A funeral service was held Sept. 27 at Temple Beth El. She is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Donations can be made to the Institute for the Family Susan H. Horwitz Scholarship Fund at the University of Rochester, 300 East River Road, P.O. Box 270032, Rochester, New York 14627.