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Changing the narrative on drug use

Stories | 10.12.23

Psy.D. graduate continues work in destigmatizing addiction

Nick Beller, Psy.D., still remembers the fall of 2018 — his first year at Adler University as a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology student — and attending a forum exploring the various student groups on the Chicago Campus.

“I didn’t see one focused on addiction or drug use,” he said. “I just thought, ‘I bet that would be something other students would be interested in.’”

He quickly set the wheels in motion in starting a local chapter of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international grassroots network of students concerned about drug misuse’s impact on communities and the war on drugs’ damaging impacts on society. SSDP officially started in Dr. Beller’s second year at Adler.

“I’m very proud of our SSDP chapter,” Dr. Beller said. “The events we organized — on cannabis, opioids, psychedelics, overdose response — were some of the most attended student-led educational events while I was there. And the group is still going strong today.”

Dr. Beller is reflecting on that accomplishment at Adler as he looks forward to Oct. 22, when he’ll be among the graduates walking across the stage of the Chicago Theatre during the 2023 Chicago and Online Commencement Ceremony.

He completed the Psy.D. program on Aug. 18. Less than a week later, he began his new role as director of clinical innovation and training at Horowitz Health in the Twin Cities, bringing his passion for helping people struggling with addictions.

“This is one graduation I’m actually looking forward to,” he said. “It’s the culmination of all the work my colleagues and I have done in the last five years. It’s just going to be a celebration.”

Helping people feel safe for seeking help

Born and raised in Chicago, Dr. Beller mainly chose Adler to stay close to home. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2016 at Loyola University Chicago and remained in the area working and volunteering before finally enrolling at Adler two years later.

He quickly established himself as a student leader by creating the SSDP local chapter.

“Our main mission was education and de-stigmatization,” Dr. Beller said. “The war on drugs has caused so much damage by pushing out pseudo-science and misinformation on a lot of substances. It has caused mass incarceration, communities being destabilized, and people have died because of policies not rooted in science.”

His interest in changing the narrative on drug use stems from meeting people with addiction throughout his life and his work in clinical rotations.

“When you tell people you’re addicted to alcohol or heroin or another substance, people immediately recoil, including mental health professionals,” he said. “I don’t want that to be the case, and I want people to feel safe to seek help.”

During his time at Adler, Dr. Beller’s internships mainly focused on working with people with addictions, including Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, an adult addiction treatment program, and the University of Chicago’s Addictive, Compulsive and Impulsive Disorders (ACID) Research Lab.

Dr. Beller’s dissertation also focused on the positive effects of psychedelics and how they can positively influence global resiliency to stress. His interest in the topic has opened other opportunities, including contributions to manuscripts from the Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research.

No impostor syndrome

Today, Dr. Beller is focused on his new role. He currently oversees different arms of the organization and develops and implements integrated mental health and addiction services.

“I’m also still doing some research and education activities,” he said.

Dr. Beller credits his Adler faculty mentors — Cathy McNeilly, Psy.D., Geoff Bathje, Ph.D., and Whitney Zweifel, Psy.D. — for preparing him as a young professional in psychology.

He recently spoke with one of his mentors about how his work at Adler has since translated to his new role.

“For me, there is no impostor syndrome. I feel unbelievably well-prepared,” he said. “Commencement allows me to really acknowledge, for the first time, my accomplishments at Adler and becoming a doctor, which is still sinking in. One day, you’re an intern, and one day, you’re not.”

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