Stephen Beller lives and works in Westchester, New York. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Hofstra University in 1980 and then provided psychotherapy to adolescents in a special education school, and to youth and adults in his private practice. He began developing a software program to assist him in treatment planning and delivery, as well as outcomes assessment and Dr. Beller founded National Health Data Systems, Inc (NHDS) in 1994, still serving as CEO. NHDS continues to evolve its digital health technology, which now supports a whole-person (biopsychosocial) therapeutic healing approach. Dr. Beller participates in Physician Innovation Network discussions, posts his work on the platform, and uses the network as a resource for industry news.
Q: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
Stephen Beller: I grew up in a small town on Long Island. My family had some serious traumatic situations early in life with the death of a parent, so we moved from the Bronx to Long Island and I grew up there. It’s a town on the Great South Bay where I sold shoes and became a lifeguard as a teenager.
I had learning disabilities that made school difficult in terms of spelling, writing, learning to read, and memorizing names and dates. For example, testing indicated I was at the 95th percentile in abstract reasoning and the 5th percentile in spelling. There was no concept of learning disabilities back then, so I was labeled an “underachiever” and I had to find my own ways to get through school. My academic struggles left me with a poor self-image, and I developed behavioral problems.
In graduate school I was introduced to computers. When personal computers were available, I began using them to help me with my learning disability and I soon began to think of ways to use them to assist me with my patients.
This confluence of life events made me the first clinician, to my knowledge, to render computer-assisted measurement-based psychotherapy.
I also became aware that people with learning disabilities have different ways of thinking, viewing, and understanding things. Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison, for example, had learning disabilities. It can be difficult and frustrating, however, to articulate your thoughts to others when you think differently, but such diversity of experience and perspective are valuable for creativity and innovation. Computers helped me actualize my talents and motivated me to start my company.
Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs interested in starting their own digital health company?
SB: Be patient, expect a good deal of frustration along the way. Make sure that what you’re doing goes beyond just making money. Make sure you’re focused on something that has a purpose you find personally meaningful, so that you remain engaged with it. Surround yourself with talented people you can trust will speak their minds. Be flexible, open-minded, and seek constructive criticism.
Q: What books are currently on your nightstand?
SB: Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual is the most recent. As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I had not been trained in psychodynamic methods of psychotherapy, although both approaches focus on helping patients change their maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We’re now expanding our software tool to support all types of psychotherapy because research shows that different approaches work better for different types of patients. The work we’re doing is enabling us to collect a broad and deep diversity of psychological data, along with SDoH and comorbid biomedical data, that address the needs of a wide range of patients. There’s great potential in having a “whole person big picture” view of each patient that’s useful in fostering patient engagement, supporting clinical decisions, and promoting better care outcomes.
Q: Who inspires you and why?
SB: At some low points in my early adolescence, there were a few teachers who saw something about me that they liked, and they took to me. They helped me feel like I had something special to offer, even though I was struggling in school and misbehaving. Their attention, empathy, kindness and guidance were very important and stuck with me throughout my life. It enabled me to keep going forward. The unconditional love of mother and grandmother were also very influential in helping me get through my pre-teen and adolescent struggles.
Q: What small things make you happy?
SB: Seeing some complex computer code I wrote work the way I want it to. Collaborating with my team. Continually learning and creating. Having patients tell me that the work we’ve done has been beneficial to them, even those I counseled in high school who are now near fifty. Knowing that I’m spending my time and my life doing something that I find personally meaningful and purposeful. Having a close family. I don’t know if they’re small things, but I’m happy about them.
The AMA thanks Mr. Stephen Beller for his support of our continued initiative to bridge the worlds of medicine and technology, and for his enthusiastic engagement with the Physician Innovation Network (PIN).
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