Psychology Emerges in a Multimedia World

Simon H. Budman
President and CEO of Inflexxion, Inc.

From the time I was a sophomore at Queens College in the 1960s I knew that I wanted to be a psychologist. What I didn’t know at that time was that I could have multiple careers within that career. My areas of interest in psychology have gone through many evolutions, each bringing me the opportunity to learn new skills and apply old ones in different ways.

I have always looked for new directions in my work that would enliven what I was doing and challenge me to get out of my “comfort zone.” While still in clinical psychology graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, I became interested in really combining being a practitioner with research. Although the scientist-practitioner (so-called Boulder) model was then in vogue, most of my classmates were most interested in getting a PhD so that they could be clinicians... and never do research again.

In both my internship and post-doctoral work, my interest in research and clinical work remained strong. This combined interest has been pivotal throughout my career, first at Harvard Community Health Plan as the Director of Mental Health Training and Mental Health Research and then when I formed my own company, now called Inflexxion.

Inflexxion initially began as a behavioral health consultation and training company, called Innovative Training Systems, and then in the early 1990s became a healthcare product development company. Much of our initial support in the product development area came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. Although SBIR is a very competitive program, Inflexxion has had an outstanding record of being able to propose and receive grants to develop products that are based on good science, tested in rigorous clinical trials and impact the health of large populations. These products are also creative, engaging and have excellent commercial potential.

Indeed, several of the products that we have developed with SBIR support are having substantial impact in various aspects of healthcare. For example, our multimedia, CD-ROM version of a widely used structured interview for substance abusers, the Addiction Severity Index Multimedia Version (ASI-MV), is being used at hundreds of substance abuse facilities by tens of thousands of substance abusers around the country. Another online product, www.MystudentBody.Com, is a comprehensive health site for college students, which has been demonstrated in a large clinical trial to significantly reduce binge drinking. MystudentBody has been gaining wide national acceptance. Inflexxion also works with pharmaceutical companies around issues such as coordination of care for children with ADHD; pain management and screening; cancer care, genetic testing and so on.

As the president, CEO and founder of Inflexxion, a company that now employs over 60 full and part-time staff (8 of whom are doctoral-level health psychologists), I have had to learn many things that I had no idea about ten years ago. Had I been asked at that time about the development of multimedia, what a programmer does, what a SQL server is, how one markets a good product and gets others to use it and pay for it, I would have been totally in the dark.

The terrific thing about my work at Inflexxion is that there is always a new challenge. Every day is different and the issues being addressed are constantly changing. Sometimes, I need to wear my scientist hat and help a work team think about issues that are raised by particular research problems. At other times, there are usability questions that arise in regard to one of our multimedia programs or websites. Later on in the same day, I may need to think with the marketing or sales team about the best ways to reach the widest audiences possible with our products. In almost every function I have within the company, my psychological training helps to inform what I do and how I do it.

In addition to my work at Inflexxion, I still maintain a small private clinical practice. Although the amount of direct clinical work I do has been getting smaller over the years, it is hard to give that up completely. Private practice remains as interesting as ever.

Being in my 50s, I hear friends talking about retirement and waiting eagerly to complete their working years. I can’t imagine retirement — at any point. I’m having too much fun and learning too many new things. People retire so that they can enjoy themselves and stop doing something that they feel they have done for too long. I enjoy myself tremendously in what I do now.

(Originally published in the Summer 2003 issue of Psychological Science Agenda,
the newsletter of the APA Science Directorate.)