Using Music To Connect With Recovery

By The Fix staff 03/06/18

Recovery Unplugged is teaching interventionists and others how music can break down barriers and lead to long-term recovery.

Steven Tyler with Recovery Unplugged
Steven Tyler with Recovery Unplugged group.

When Barry Reiman was 20 years old, his family saw — before he did — the self-destructive path that he was on. Reiman wasn’t particularly bothered by his drug and alcohol use, but when his loved ones staged an intervention for him, he was willing to give sobriety a try.

“I made a decision in treatment to give this thing 90 straight days,” he says. “On the 91st day I could reevaluate. If life hadn't gotten better, drugs would always be there if I wanted to self destruct.”

When the 91st day rolled around, Reiman realized that he looked and felt better. He wondered what improvements he could see after six months of sobriety if he had seen that amount of progress in 90 days, so he decided to continue living without substances.

“For me, recovery happened when the rewards of staying clean started to outweigh the rewards of being high,” he says.

Almost 22 years later, the rewards of recovery are continuing to unfold for Reiman, who is the vice-president of business development for Recovery Unplugged, a music-based rehabilitation program with offices in Florida and Texas. After completing treatment, Reiman returned to college, eventually becoming a Doctor of Psychology and beginning a career of helping other people in recovery.

His personal experience informs the care he provides, both as a doctor and as a recovery center administrator.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” he says. “I don’t give up on anybody. Some people get it on their first time, some get it on their 17th time. I'm not one to judge.”

In February, Reiman’s story came full-circle when he traveled to a conference for ARISE Interventionists in order to share the basics of Recovery Unplugged with the people who are tasked with getting often-reluctant patients into recovery.

Reiman says his own experience with an intervention that changed his life has influenced how he looks at interventions today.

“I'm of the belief that just because someone says they’re not ready, that doesn't always mean they're not ready,” he says.

Although many people claim to be interventionists, he says that the ARISE collaborative, non-confrontational approach distinguishes it from other methods and gets more clients into treatment.

“This is more of a loving approach, figuring out the individual’s past issues and traumas and addressing those things,” he says.

The fact that the approach was founded by a doctor who is in recovery, Judith Landau, is not lost on Reiman.

“She's been in recovery herself for over 55 years, so she’s somebody who is compelling in her own right,” he says.

At the ARISE conference, Reiman introduced the concepts behind Recovery Unplugged to interventionists so that they could have one more tool in their bag to help match clients with a recovery program that would fit them best.

“People hear ‘Recovery Unplugged’ and automatically think music therapy, but there’s so much more than that,” Reiman said. “We're not music therapy. Music is used as a catalyst to engage the client and break down barriers.”

Recently, Reiman worked with a client whose father had died from cancer. Reiman had asked the man’s family members what song was closely associated with the father. Reiman sang that during one of his next interactions with the client.

“He started singing along, and within 30 seconds there were tears streaming down his face,” Reiman said. “Music has the ability to break down barriers that wouldn't otherwise be broken down.”

At Recovery Unplugged, clinicians, therapists and medical professionals leverage the power of music to help people heal, Reiman says.

“We’re the first addiction treatment program that weaves music into the fabric of the treatment itself,” he explains. “There’s nothing that can instantly be a mood changer the way music is. At a moment's notice music can activate an area of the brain to trigger a memory that otherwise wouldn’t come up.”

That can accelerate a client’s rapport with the treatment providers, and also help them address underlying issues for their addiction. In the long run, that can give people a better chance for sustained sobriety.

“I think we have a way of connecting with clients that you really haven’t seen across the industry,” Reiman says. If more interventionists know about that model, more people with substance use disorder can have access to untraditional but effective treatment, he says.

“It’s important to recognize that the Recovery Unplugged mission is really about helping people relate to themselves through the use of music and relate to others.”

Recovery Unplugged is a music-based rehabilitation and recovery center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Austin, Texas. Get more information at or connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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