Music for Recovery
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Music for Recovery

Morristown, New Jersey, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | SELF

Morristown, New Jersey, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2009
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"Creative process through music reinforces recovery for youths"

Creative process through music reinforces recovery for youths
August 17, 2016 by Gary A. Enos, Editor | Reprints

Music studio at Daytop New Jersey
To a young person in treatment whose life has been beset by trauma and substance misuse, the thought of summoning the patience and dedication needed to write song lyrics could easily overwhelm. The founder of Music for Recovery tries to convey in her work that this type of creative process offers a hands-on opportunity to practice skills that will benefit the individual in recovery.

Singer/songwriter Kathy Moser likens the effort to “midwifing” someone through the process of delivering a line to an original song, or learning the rudiments of a new instrument. “They ultimately see repetition, and slowing down, as something that serves them well, rather than as a punishment,” says Moser, a New Jersey-based musician in long-term recovery.

Moser, who has conducted songwriting workshops at numerous addiction treatment centers and is offering a full music therapy program at a handful of facilities, including Daytop New Jersey and Gosnold on Cape Cod, says the groups she works with build a shared musical experience from no predetermined road map. In this respect, the effort resembles the early recovery journey.

“We walk in with nothing—no lyrics, no genre—and the actions the group takes together determine the direction in which we want to go,” she says.

In June, Music for Recovery's efforts with Daytop were cited for excellence in addiction treatment by the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, Inc.

Daytop's experience

Daytop introduced Music for Recovery into its northern New Jersey residential program for youths in Mendham a year ago, and will be extending it into its program covering the southern part of the state this fall. Erin Carrabba, principal of Daytop's recovery school for youths ages 13 to 18 (the Daytop New Jersey Academy at Mendham), says Moser performed for students at a school assembly several years ago, and her message that day was so positive that it got her to thinking about the benefits music could bring to young patients.

“We're becoming a trauma-informed care organization, and we're aware that repetitive motion and rhythm can be so important in recovering from traumatic events,” says Carrabba.

The youths at Daytop create songs and videos that they can access after treatment, and also receive instruction in playing an instrument. “Many of them have never had an opportunity to play,” Moser says. The young people are able to pursue some of their instruction through books, says Moser, who adds that practicing an instrument has been documented as an optimal strategy for improving brain connectivity.

Moser says any musical genre can generate benefits for participants. Carrabba indicates that since many of the young people in the Daytop program gravitate to hip-hop, the school emphasizes keeping the messages of the music positive.

Moser says many of the youths in the Daytop program have grown up in poverty, and “part of their poverty is the poverty of language.” She often will have a young person print out the lyrics to a favorite rap song and then cross out any obscene language or references to drugs or violence. In some cases, what's left is “not a lot,” she says. But the lesson here becomes one not of abandoning street talk, but adding another lingo to one's repertoire. “It's not helpful for me to say that where they came from is bad,” Moser says.

Carrabba says some musical performances were integrated into the academy's graduation ceremony this year, and some of the songs the youths have written have been powerful, moving accounts of their history.

She is now looking at implementing a full music curriculum at Daytop. The facility's clinicians also have an opportunity to accompany the youths to the Music for Recovery sessions.

On the most basic level, these experiences allow the youths to discover fun in sobriety. “It is an opportunity to experience joy,” Moser says.

Dynamics at work

In an attempt to quantify some of the dynamics of music therapy, nationally known researcher John F. Kelly, PhD, associate in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, collaborated on a survey instrument administered with Music for Recovery participants at two treatment organizations where Moser has introduced her program. Research staff developed a 10-item questionnaire that measured half a dozen group therapeutic factors both before and after participation in the program.

Among 78 individuals who completed both surveys, significant improvements in overall scores on the research team's Therapeutic Change Scale were reported, and improved scores on these four individual components were seen:

Catharsis, or the ability to express emotion better;

Cohesion, or a greater sense of community, trust and belonging;

Existential factors, or improvement in confidence and empowerment to make changes; and

Interpersonal learning, or patients' ability to learn from one another.

Daytop CEO Jim Curtin says he had taken note of the positive anecdotal feedback he had heard about music therapy in the past, but adds, “When I saw the Harvard research, that sealed the deal, if you will.” - Addiction Professional

"Musician uses music to help recovery at Mendham treatment center"

MENDHAM – The nine teenage men and women had a few things in common, notably their histories of drug abuse and hard times for such young lives.

They had another interest in common, music, and it is at the center of a new therapeutic program at the Daytop rehab center off Route 24.

The program, known as “Music for Recovery,” was developed by Kathy Moser of Stanhope, an award-winning professional musician who has been in recovery for 18 years.

The young residents at Daytop had similar histories; most ended up in rehab because they were in outpatient programs and violated the rules by using drugs. Some were ordered into rehab by the court. All have been in residential treatment at Daytop for three to six months.

Experts said that the fortunate ones will probably enter rehab many times but they will kick their addictions. The unfortunate ones will die of overdoses after leaving the rehab.

Two of the young residents wrote powerful rap songs about their lives. One, by Isaiah, reads, in part:

“Finally got to talk to my mom that’s a blessing,

Waking up in rehab; finally learned a lesson

So much in my head, damn your boy really stressing

the fact that I opened up and started confessing

all the wrongs that I’ve done, yea, I finally addressed

the fact I was out and I never really checked in

left wonders in your head if I was to get arrested.”

Another is by Dan, and reads in part:

“Grew up hard, hard in the hood

Always wanted to change but I never thought I could.

Felt lonely nothing never made sense

started smoking weed while I was depressed

always running from my problems

I need a god in my life so I could solve them.”

Teaching Artist

Moser, known as a “teaching artist,” instructs the young people how to play guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. She uses 11 guitars, a banjo and mandolin, all donated by musician friends. Some of the young students have had a little musical experience and others had no experience before coming to Daytop.

Gabe, 15, of Newton, has been at Daytop for six months. He played guitar before and is learning to play drums.

“Music helps me calm down,” said Gabe. “It helps me focus sometimes.”

Gabe showed a booklet that Moser put together to inspire her young students. It includes a photo of newly hatched eagles, just like the students who are new to music. Another photo is of fledgling, awkward eagles, again like the young students. And the final photo is of the eagles, soaring like the students hope to do.

Shad, 16, of Linden has been at Daytop for five months, and is self-taught, playing the drums for five years and is learning to play bass guitar. Shad gave a rocking, impromptu performance with Moser on guitar.

“I grew up basically in church,” Shad said. “Whenever I’m angry I put on my headphones and get the energy out. Even if I feel down, the music gives me motivation and puts me in a good mood. I’m not nice (competent) yet on the drums but I’m getting there. People say I’m good and it feels great. I’ve been working hard to reach this level. “

Leondre, 17, of Paterson came to Daytop two months ago. He played drums before and Moser is helping him to improve. Leondre said he sometimes visits the music room at Daytop to get out some steam with the drums.

“It makes me get out of class and helps my coping skills,” Leondre said. “Intead of hitting someone I hit the drums.”

Leondre said he prefers rap, whether it is the violent, “gangsta” rap or softer songs about how a person is going through life’s changes.

Victor, 18, of Clifton, has been at Daytop for six months. He taught himself to play guitar by watching videos on You Tube. He enjoys rap along with other kinds of music. He said his influences are topped by Jimi Hendrix, particularly the Hendrix versions of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Child.” Victor also is learning to play piano and drums.

Levon, 18, of Dover came to Daytop two months ago and writes and sings rap songs. Most of the time, he “freestyles,” or sings while making up the words on the spot.

“I like to write about things in my past that frustrated me,” Levon said. “One song is about my treatment, about how I treat my mom and how I was.”

Levon said he likes rap songs because they tell stories and have a good beat.

“It’s something I can relate to,” Levon said.

Moser has helped Levon learn to breathe more while singing. Before, he said,he tried to say every line without taking a breath.

Tyrah, 17, of Elizabeth arrived at Daytop three months ago and is learning to play the drums.

“It’s not hard but you have to do two to three things at once,” Tyrah said. “Sometimes I get mad and Kathy tell me to keep going and I do.”

Shaylah, 17, of Toms River, also has been at Daytop for three months and she writes songs.

“Music is expression for me,” Shaylah said. “I often can’t express myself so I write it out. It’s my way of communicating.”

And Dan, 16, of Middletown came to Daytop two months ago and also write and sings rap songs, mostly in the freestyle vein.

“Music teaches them to work together and to be relaxed about making mistakes,” Moser said. “It is having sober fun.”

Rap is the most popular form of music among the youths and Moser said the genre is “incredibly powerful” and is “great for language skills.”

Moser started the program in September and teaches music at Daytop for one day a week. The popularity of the program is clear; there are 19 students enrolled and 17 on the waiting list.

Moser pointed to the work of three of the girls who composed music to the words of the Daytop philosophies while Moser’s friend, musician Alice Leon, recorded the song at home. Leon of Congers, N.Y., also is a teaching artist at Daytop. The philosophy reads, in part, “I am here because there is no refuge, finally from myself. Until I confront myself in the eyes and hearts of others, I am running.”

Moser also has brought talented area musicians to perform at Daytop, including Andy Goessling of the band, “Railroad Earth” and Gypsy, a rapper from New Brunswick. Moser also brought a group to the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown for a performance by the “Mayhem Poets.” She said hopes to bring the youths to other shows at the arts center.

“The goal is to have fun, to have an accomplishment and to be more connected with each other,” Moser said.

Musical Studies

Moser said there have been many studies about the effects of music and the brain and particularly with people in recovery. She said studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography (PET) “show that playing music is the brain’s equivalent to a full body workout.”

“Although there is more research to be done, it appears that the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to playing a musical instrument are different than any other activity studied including other arts,” Moser said.

Studies have shown that playing music lights up different areas of the brain simultaneously; engages practically every area of the brain at once; increases the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes; enhances memory functions; increases cognitive function; and may enhance executive function, a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing and attention to detail, and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects.

In 2015 the Recovery Research Institute at Harvard University and Mass General Hospital worked with Moser’s group, “Music For Recovery,” to design a questionnaire to evaluate the effectiveness of this work. The results of the questionnaire showed that:

Music therapy ultimately enhances the likelihood of long-term recovery, helps patients to better express emotions, leads to a greater sense trust and community, improved self-confidence and helps patients fell closer to their peers. - Observer Tribune

"Music for Recovery at The Meadows"

Kathy Moser and her merry music makers came to The Meadows! Kathy has been working with recovering communities for the past several years bringing “Music for Recovery” to enhance patients treatment experiences by exploring creativity in music. Kathy is an award winning songwriter, performer, and teaching/artist who has given recovery based performances at other treatment facilities including; Father Martin’s Ashley, Alina Lodge, Caron, Gosnold on Cape Cod, and Jaywalker Lodge. Learn more about Kathy at her website

Kathy and Natalia worked with the Dawn patients in two songwriting workshops where they created two original songs. It was a fun, interactive workshop, 2 hours with the young adult female patients and 2 hours with the young adult male patients. The groups wrote and recorded original songs. The participants help run equipment, direct the session, perform and record the songs. After the songwriting workshops at Dawn, the musicians moved to the upper campus and performed an interactive recovery oriented concert with The Meadows and Dawn patients. Patient feedback was very positive and they were grateful for the experience and the generosity of the performers.

The link for the two original songs: - The Meadows

"Writing the Soundtrack to Recovery"

Two dozen women aged 20 to 50 gather around in comfortable chairs in the West Falmouth mansion’s cozy living room. They chat and laugh amongst themselves or sit quietly, studying the print on a lavender sheet of paper. A few are pregnant and some have infants, which they entertain with toys or rock in their arms with a bottle.

It’s not a family reunion or a ladies weekend getaway. Some of the women have been staying at the Emerson House for close to a year; others arrived just days ago. All are on the rocky road to sobriety, spending each day reflecting and healing from the path that brought them to this place.

A tall woman in her 40s walks into the room, wearing a purple dress, thick-rimmed glasses and a smile. She’s pulling a red and white polka dotted suitcase filled with assorted paraphernalia: a laptop, a projector, a mic stand and a tangle of wires.

Meet Kathy Moser, a New Jersey singer-songwriter who travels to rehab centers across the country teaching songwriting workshops. She’s been coming to Gosnold-affiliated centers like the Emerson House and the Miller House for the past two years, and last week joined the Students Achieving Recovery Together (START) club for a special workshop at Cape Cod Community College.

“Hi, friends and sisters in recovery,” Moser says to the group. “My name is Kathy and I’m an alcoholic and an addict.”

“Hi, Kathy,” the women chorus back.
"It's not 'Kumbaya'"

Like many who work in the rehabilitation sector, Moser has her own stories to tell. Now clean for 16 years, she freely admits that she abused substances until she finally had a breakthrough 18 years ago.

One of the myths about being a musician is that drugs and alcohol help with creativity, Moser says.

“I’m sure I had moments of brilliance [as an addict] but I can’t find them,” she says. “Now that I’ve gotten help I’ve been able to bring my creativity out into the world. All my success in music has come in recovery.”

Though she graduated from New York University with a degree in music, Moser emphasizes that she is not a licensed musical therapist.

“I’m not a trained therapist. I’m a trained musician. I’m trying to bring these workshops to the highest level of musicianship,” she said in an interview earlier this month, as she prepared for the Cape Cod Symposium on Addictive Disorders. “It’s not ‘Kumbaya.’”
Writing recovery

That fact is evident as she breaks the ice with the song, "I'm Open," written by women of the Emerson House in a previous workshop. With her assistant, Trina Hamlin on harmonica and drums, Moser sings the bluesy tune: “I always find myself wherever I go/ But I’m open to something more than what I know.”

Listening in rapt attention, the women need little encouragement from Moser to join in on the refrain: “I am open/ To letting go” they sing, shyly at first, then with rising confidence as Hamlin lets loose on a harmonica riff. When the song ends, the room breaks out in whoops and applause.

Putting her guitar down, Moser tells the group that—believe it or not—they will have written and recorded just as powerful a song within the next two hours.

“Right now there is no song. It might not go well the first time, and that’s why we give each other the gift of repetition and allow ourselves to make discoveries through mistakes,” Moser says. “Writing a song is like the process of recovery.”

Writing songs also engage participants in creating a soundtrack to their own recovery. “Music reaches you in a different way. It just bypasses your defenses. So if you get an earworm with a positive recovery message [in it], it’s like a pop song you can’t get out of your head,” she says.
Finding a refrain

And therein lies the key to Moser’s success. Not only do participants come away with a song they might find themselves humming in dark moments, they also learn coping skills and cultivate an outlet they can use long after they leave rehab.

One of those skills is learning to work with others, especially in the close-knit and sometimes tense living situations at rehabilitation centers, says Moser.

“Some women said they’d done the thing that they’d been afraid of—working together [in my workshop]. It makes people willing to take healthy risks outside their comfort zone,” she says.

Turning the microphone to the group, Moser asks each woman to share a source of personal strength. As they begin to open up about their past experiences, full of disappointments and hopes, one of the women types their words onto a laptop connected to a projector.

A good song “tells the truth, paints a picture and tells a story,” Moser says. And as the women speak, the elements of a song begin to appear on the wall.

A red-haired young woman named Tristan says she finds strength, ironically enough, in reflecting on the experiences that led her to the present moment.

“My strength is walking through the door of this beautiful mansion. My hope is what I’m striving for,” she says.

- InsideOut Cape Cod

"Reach Recovery High School, Casper, WY"

I LOVE having this opportunity to recommend Kathy Moser to any high school program, but most especially to those programs that serve students in recovery!! I met Kathy at the Association of Recovery Schools 2010 Convention in Boston. I had just been hired as the coordinator for Wyoming’s first Recovery High School Program. After school got going, I contacted Kathy to see if she could come to Wyoming and run a workshop. Kathy and I had several conversations about what would best suit the needs of my students. I expressed to her that my “newly recovering” students (yes, that would be all of them) were struggling with the concept of a higher power. Well, Kathy to the rescue!! We made the arrangements; she contacted other schools in both Wyoming and Colorado (and was able to make my costs lower as a result), and then SHE ARRIVED! With guitar and computer in hand Kathy went to work. In a very short time, my students were completely engaged. They worked all day and at the end of the day—Kathy had not only taught them how to work together to write and record a song—she had also shared her amazing story and many of them had shared theirs. Kathy quickly connected because they knew immediately that she talks the talk, walks the walk and definitely does the deal. I would love to visit with you if you are considering adding a “Music for a Better World” moment to your school’s calendar. Give me a call and we can talk! Daney Tanner: 307-258-7439 - not published


"Kathy M's singing and especially the words were very inspirational and uplifting. I would vote overwhelmingly to have her come back." Kevin T age 47 - not published

"Haley House"

"The women loved it and are excited at the prospect of seeing you again..." Susan Nordstrom, Director Haley House - Transitional House for Women - not published

"Rutgers University Sober Dorm"

Interesting, unique, soulful. I heard a lot of life experience in the lyrics. John age 19 - not published

"The Lighthouse"

"Not only completely entertaining, but completely inspirational as well! Beautiful guitar playing in a variety of styles. Hugely entertaining and unexpected surprise for me to get to hear in rehab. Kathy moved me in a way I've not been moved in quite some time." - not published

"Rutgers University Sober Dorm"

I wasn't expecting it to be fun. I was pleasantly surprised by the songwriting experience. The performance was absolutely amazing and I wanted to hear more songs. Chris age 25 - not published

"Rutgers University"

I wasn't expecting it to be fun. I was pleasantly surprised by the songwriting experience. The performance was absolutely amazing and I wanted to hear more songs. Chris age 25 - not published

"Alina Lodge Performance"

“This totally rocked. I got a lot out of this group! Very inspirational and refreshing.”

“The energy and recovery message is amazing as always. You are so inspirational. Getting together as recovering women working together is awesome. I need to ask for help and finding it in others is a blessing. It is always a pleasure and thrill to have you here. It just always comes together. You are so serene—I want that. Peace!” –Linda H.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the music and listening to your stories—you guys are great! Very inspirational! I would love to hear it again.” “I thought telling your story through music is a beautiful idea and it’s a great new way to relate to other addicts/alcoholics. Thanks so much.” –Jess F.

“I love it! Awesome—like I said I was so homesick today and your music, energy, and happiness gave me hope and inspiration, and made me happy. Come back ?” –Vicki

“I really thought this was great! I think that getting to hear you guys sing and play your own music about recovery was really inspirational for me and all the girls here. Seeing two strong women with an awesome recovery brings me so much hope! I think it would help people in recovery to hear your music.” –Alaina B.

“I felt Caitlin and Kathy’s performance was a great way to look at recovery. Was very inspirational and motivating.” “Very uplifting and inspirational way to get everyone involved in the moment. It helps everyone feel like they’re contributing and really lets a different side of people come out.” “Kathy and Cait were great. They gave me hope. I want what they have.” “Hearing the music was very inspirational to me and really helped me. They brightened my spirits in a dark and difficult time. They made me wanna be sober!” –Christin H “Listening to both of you perform the music you have created about recovery is so inspirational to me. Being an addict has caused me to feel desperate and alone during my active addiction, so to hear music about fellow addict’s and alcoholic’s struggles encourages me to change in order to become a sober woman. Recovery is a lifelong journey, but allowing it to be exciting and refreshing is key. This music performed today has made me realize I CAN become the woman that my higher power intended me to be. Thank you both so much for the privilege to hear these beautiful songs—it was an honor!” - not published


Still working on that hot first release.



Contact info:  Kathy Moser 


Music is a powerful, positive interactive way for clients to deepen their connection to themselves and each other.

A "Recovery Songwriting Workshop" can help your clients practice their recovery skills in a fun, safe and creative environment. At the end of 2 hours they will have created their own soundtrack for recovery.

The "Guide to the Landscape of Recovery" concert will give your clients an hour tour of what to expect on the journey to joy. This concert is interactive and high energy.

Kathy has given recovery performances and workshops at Alina Lodge, The Meadows, Father Martin's Ashley, Caron Texas, Gosnold on Cape Cod,  Rutgers Institute, Seabrook House, JayWalker Lodge,CO, Harmony Foundation, The Association of Recovery Schools, and more.

Here's what participants are saying .....

"First it was intimidating, then it was possible, then it was fun! I felt proud at the end. Something I haven't felt in a very long time."
Michele age 57 Emerson House

 "I've never done anything like this, expressing myself through music.  The words and my current feelings is the only way in four years that I've actually expressed myself and the way I feel.  You have changed my whole perspective on recovery."   Mike age 28 Miller House. 

"This gave me a better understanding of what I can expect in the journey of recovery. Also showed me I can have fun without drugs."  Amber age 18 Emerson House, MA

"I smiled so much my face hurts!"  Jane age 53 Father Martin's Ashley, MD

We did exactly what we all talked about fearing.. working as a group! Thank you Megan age 20 Seabrook House, NJ

"Fantastic presentation, well prepared, well presented. Would highly recommend this program."  Larry age 57 Seabrook House, NJ

Here's what professionals are saying......

"Kathy's music not only bridges the gap between art and treatment it reaches deep inside and in a beautiful way validates ones feelings, it is joyfully engaging and helps pave the path to recovery." Dr. Bob Lynn

"In a very short time, my students were completely engaged. Kathy quickly connected because they knew immediately that she talks the talk, walks the walk and definitely does the deal." Daney Tanner, REACH Recovery High School, Casper, WY

"Your music is strong, honest, healing and beautiful."
Angela Shepherd, Program Director
Gosnold at Emerson House

Band Members