Coates earned her BA from Sarah Lawrence College, her MA from Vassar College and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from New York University. She is a Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
In the 1970s Coates began publishing on Field dependence-independence (FDI) using the Preschool Embedded Figures Test that she developed based on Herman Witkin's Embedded Figures Test. This led to work on cognitive and behavioral sex differences in humans.
Coates served as Director of the Childhood Gender Identity Service at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center from 1980 to 1997. Coates said of her therapeutic intervention for gender identity disorder in children, "With therapy, younger kids usually come to accept their own gender and feel good about their temperament. When we go back to evaluate them three years or so after therapy, they don't have compulsive cross-gender fantasies anymore, or often don't remember them. But if you don't treat it until 9 or 10, it's much harder to turn around. And beyond age 12 or so, there's a good chance they're on course to become a transsexual as adults." Coates has stated that maternal trauma when the child was two or three was often a factor, and that five to thirty times as many boys are treated for GIDC. Coates believes that when gender is appropriated in preschool children to solve issues of trauma or a derailed or disorganized attachment relationship the child and family need help to resolve the trauma and to restore a secure attachment relationship. With this resolution children can become comfortable with who they are and restore their natural creative nature.
She is on the teaching faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. In 1997, Coates was founding Co-Director of the Parent-Infant Program at the Center. She teaches a course on Intergenerational transfer of trauma that focuses on the interface of trauma and attachment theory, and on how trauma that is unresolved in one generation is visited upon the next generation. She is particularly interested in how the failure of mentalization creates an environment in which trauma is easily transferred from one generation to the next.
Immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Coates provided mental health services to children and their parents at the Family Assistance Center set up by Disaster Psychiatry Outreach at Pier 94 in New York City. She is the senior editor of the 2003 book September 11: Trauma and Human Bonds. This book has been translated into multiple languages and remains among the very first accounts of 9/11 related loss and trauma described by mental health professionals who also experienced the attacks and their aftermath. She has also discussed trauma in children following Hurricane Katrina in an expert interview on Medscape.
- Coates SW (1985). Extreme boyhood femininity: Overview and new research findings. In Ruth Corn, Zira DeFries, Richard C. Friedman, eds. Sexuality: New perspectives. Greenwood Press ISBN 978-0-313-24207-6
- Coates SW, Person ES (1986). Extreme Boyhood Femininity: Isolated Behavior or Pervasive Disorder? J Am Acad Child Psychiatry. 1985 Nov;24(6):702-9.
- Coates SW (1990). Ontogenesis of Boyhood Gender Identity Disorder. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 18:414-438.
- Coates SW, Friedman RC, Wolfe S (1991). The Etiology of Boyhood Gender Identity Disorder: A Model for Integrating Temperament, Development, and Psychodynamics. Psychoanal. Dial., 1:481-523.
- Zucker KJ, Lozinski JA, Bradley SJ, Doering RW (1992). Sex-Typed Responses in the Rorschach Protocols of Children With Gender Identity Disorder. Journal of Personality Assessment, Volume 58, Issue 2 April 1992, pages 295 - 310
- Zucker KJ, Green R, Coates S, Zuger B, Cohen-Kettenis PT, Zecca GM, Lertora V, Money J, Hahn-Burke S, Bradley SJ, Blanchard R. Sibling sex ratio of boys with gender identity disorder. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1997 Jul;38(5):543-51.
- Coates SW, Wolfe S. Boyhood Gender Identity Disorder: The interface of constitution and early experience. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 1995, 51:6-38.
- Coates SW, Moore MS. The complexity of early trauma: Representation and transformation. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 1997, 17:286-311.
- Coates SW, Schechter, DS, First, E, Anzieu-Premmereur, C, Steinberg, Z, & Hamilton, V. Considerazioni in merito all’intervento di crisi con I bambini di New York City dopo l’attentato alle Torri Gemelle. (Thoughts on Crisis Intervention with New York City Children After the World Trade Center Bombing). Infanzia E Adolescenza, 2002, 1:49-62
- Coates SW, Schechter DS, First E, Anzieu-Premmereur C, Steinberg Z, Hamilton V. Quelques reflexions sur les interventions immediates apres des enfants de New York apres la tragedie du World Trade Center. Psychotherapies, 2002, 22, 143-152. Geneve.
- Schechter DS, Coates SW, First E (2002). Observations of acute reactions of young children and their families to the World Trade Center attacks. Journal of ZERO-TO-THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 22(3), 9-13.
- Schechter DS, Coates SW, First F (2003). Beobachtungen von akuten Reaktionen kleiner Kinder und ihrer Familien auf die Anschläge auf das World Trade Center. In T. Auchter, C. Buettner, U. Schultz-Venrath, H.-J. Wirth (Eds.): Der 11. September. Psychoanalytische, psychosoziale und psychohistorische Analysen von Terror und Trauma. Giessen, Germany: Psychosozial-Verlag. pp. 268–280
- Coates SW, Schechter DS, First E, Anzieu-Premmereur C, Steinberg Z, Hamilton V. L'experience d'une equipe therapeutique de Columbia aupres des enfants de New York apres le 11 Septembre. Carnet Psy, Mai 2002, 73, 19-21.Clinical examples of crisis interventions with New York City families after September 11.
- Coates SW, Rosenthal J, Schechter DS, eds. (2003). September 11: Trauma and Human Bonds. Hillside, NJ : The Analytic Press. ISBN 0-88163-381-X
- Coates SW, Schechter DS. 2004. Preschoolers’ Traumatic Stress Post-9/11: Relational and Developmental Perspectives. In. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. Disaster Psychiatry: A Closer Look. Edited by Craig Katz, M.D. and Anand Pandya, M.D. 27, 3, 473-489.
- Coates SW (2005). Having a Mind of One's Own and Holding the Other in Mind: Commentary on Paper by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target (1998). Mahwah, NJ: Analytic Press.
- Schechter DS, Coots T, Zeanah CH, Davies M, Coates SW, Trabka KA, et al. (2005). Maternal mental representations of the child in an inner-city clinical sample: Violence-related posttraumatic stress and reflective functioning. Attachment & Human Development, 7(3), 313-331.
- Schechter DS, Coates SW (2006). Relationally and developmentally focused interventions with young children and their caregivers affected by the events of 9/11. In Y. Neria, R. Gorss, R. D. Marshall & E. Susser (Eds.), September 11, 2001: Treatment, Research and Public Mental Health in the Wake of a Terrorist Attack (pp. 402–427). New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Schechter DS, Myers MM, Brunelli SA, Coates SW, Zeanah CH Jr, Davies M, et al. (2006). Traumatized mothers can change their minds about their toddlers: Understanding how a novel use of videofeedback supports positive change of maternal attributions. Infant Mental Health Journal, 27(5), 429-447.
- Schechter DS, Zygmunt A, Coates SW, Davies M, Trabka KA, McCaw J, et al. (2007). Caregiver traumatization adversely impacts young children's mental representations on the MacArthur Story Stem Battery. Attachment & Human Development, 9(3), 187-205.
- Coates SW, Gaensbauer TJ. 2009. Event Trauma in Early Childhood: Symptoms, Assessment, Intervention. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health. Editors are Mary Margaret Gleason and Daniel S. Schechter. 18(3):611-26.
- Bryant K (2006). Making Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood: Historical Lessons for Contemporary Debates. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 3(3), 23-39.
- Coates S (1972). Preschool Embedded Figures Test. Palo Alto, GA: Consulting Psychologists Press
- Coates S, Lord M, Jakabovics E (1975). Field dependence-independence, social-non-social play and sex differences in pre-school children. Percept Mot Skills. Feb 1975 40:1, pp. 195-202
- Goleman, Daniel (March 22, 1994). The 'Wrong' Sex: A New Definition Of Childhood Pain. New York Times
- Coates S, Zucker KJ (1992). Gender Identity Disorders in Children. In Kestenbaum CJ, Williams DT (Eds.) Handbook of clinical assessment of children and adolescents NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-4628-4
- Bradley SJ, Blanchard R, Coates SW, Green R, Levine SB, Meyer-Bahlburg HFL, Pauly IB, Zucker KJ (1991). Interim report of the DSM-IV Subcommittee on Gender Identity Disorders. Archives of Sexual Behavior Volume 20, Number 4 / August, 1991
- Span, Paula (May 4, 1993). Courtroom Notebook; Here Comes the Judgment!; As the Allen-Farrow Trial Ends, an Early Verdict on the Principals. Washington Post
- Grimes, William (March 31, 1993). Farrow's Lawyer Takes Aim at Doctor's Judgment. New York Times
- Marks, Peter (April 4, 1993). Reporter's notebook: Therapists in Allen Case Often Seem Like Family. New York Times
- Staff report (October 10, 2005). Trauma in Children An Expert Interview With Susan Coates, PhD. Medscape
- Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research
- Trauma in Children; Considerations for Care After Hurricane Katrina: An Expert Interview With Susan Coates, PhD via MedScape
- Susan Coates profile via CUNY
- Clinical/Epidemiological Developmental Research via Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology
- Special Members roster via Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine