Interview: Rock to Recovery music therapy at Sovereign Health

Q&A featuring Wesley Geer, founder of Rock to Recovery

Interview: Rock to Recovery music therapy at Sovereign Health

Sovereign Health has partnered with Rock to Recovery to bring a unique form of music therapy to our patients. Founded by professional rock musician Wesley Geer, Rock to Recovery provides patients with an empowering musical experience and helps them express their emotions during treatment to achieve positive results. In June 2016, Sovereign’s Los Angeles facility joins our facilities in San Clemente, Rancho San Diego and Palm Springs in using Rock to Recovery as part of their behavioral health treatment programs.

We sat down to speak with Geer about this exciting new aspect of treatment.

Q: How does Rock to Recovery differ from other music therapy programs?

We aren’t the first to use music in treatment, but how we do it is entirely our own. We have created a way to bring the therapeutic elements of playing music, to nonmusicians. All of our staff members are sober musicians and teachers who have written and recorded records and lived that lifestyle but survived to recover from addiction. That story of hope comes with us into each session, along with our passion for what we do.

Our model for sessions is to form a band, to have that common bond, to discuss the issues we are all contending with in that very moment. We tie it into a song we can all sing, because it’s ours. Then, we record each session. It’s the best form of catharsis there is, because playing music is so transformative, and we support each other while doing it. We give the clients an opportunity to share their heart and soul, together, and feel good while tackling the toughest topics. Then, they can forward that recording to husbands, wives, mom, dad, children, anyone!

Q: How does Rock to Recovery assist people with long-term recovery?  

Most people struggling with addiction have issues other than using a substance too much. Typically there are emotional issues, fears, past trauma, insecurities, self loathing, lack of confidence, social anxieties, co-occurring disorders, etc. that they carry around with them their whole life. We give clients an opportunity to grow, to get stronger, to take chances, to use that voice, to build confidence, doing things they thought they could never do. Those gains stay with you.

Also, we turn so many people onto the fact that they can play, and many pick up instruments as a new coping mechanism or get reconnected to an instrument they haven’t played since 7th grade. We always ask everyone after sessions, “How do you feel now, after participating in group?” Ninety-nine percent of them smile really big and say, “I feel so much better!” We teach the lesson that you can “get high” organically and that fun does exist in sobriety. And since we record it, they can go back to that moment, anytime they want, for the rest of their life.

Q: The program performs hundreds of sessions a month. That sounds like a lot of work. Briefly walk us through the recording process.

It is over 300 now! We have had so much success with our program, and we just keep growing. We start by checking in, talking about where we are at in our recovery, we write lyrics that fit the mood of the moment. They can be fun, and light if that’s what we need, but more often than not, they authentically come out with depth and weight, about the hope, for this journey into a new amazing life. We write the music, jam, and sing together, then at the end we use our super-rad stereo recording equipment and record it all live! No auto-tune here! It’s 100 percent natural and from the heart!

Q: A person in the throes of full-blown addiction can be a wreck. Is there a minimum standard for mental acuity in order to participate in the program?  

No, we find that if someone can function as a person, without assistance, than they are Rock to Recovery material! We have simple percussion instruments as well as guitars and keyboards. We can create a part that is as simple or as difficult as the client want or needs. So everyone can be at the level they feel best at. And if you are just learning something, even a simple part feels like you are shredding! Because you are. Playing music engages the left and right side of the brain, and is very unique in that way. So for people who are brand-new, playing instruments is a huge benefit to repairing the neural pathways that were damaged during their addiction, even when playing something simple.

Q: As guitarist for Korn, you played huge venues. Gregg Allman, in an interview with Dan Rather, mentioned when he walks on stage, all of his ailments disappear. The audience response just washes away all the negatives. When you think about that feeling, how do you rank the feeling you get when you help someone overcome their demons? Are they comparable? Can you even compare them? 

Yes! It’s funny, we talk about that all the time. Every one of us has played to live audiences, big ones! I’ve played to 80,000-100,000 people, and it is an amazing feeling, a rush; it’s anxious, exhilarating, elevating, spiritual and just beyond comprehension. But all of us have noticed that the high we get after a session, where we’ve walked into a room with nothing but music gear, full of mostly strangers, and we leave having created something so magical, with all of our energy from the deepest part of our souls, and sang and played together, there is nothing like it! Like you said, we watch people overcome their demons, right in front of our eyes. Fear, hopelessness, anxiety and depression slip away, and an elevated spirit comes to be.

Sovereign Health’s treatment programs throughout California make use of music therapy through Rock to Recovery as part of our comprehensive behavioral health care program. In addition to music therapy, we make us of traditional and nontraditional treatments such as equine therapy, yoga, cognitive retraining, neurofeedback and transcranial magnetic stimulation

Wesley Geer is a professional musician with more than 20 years of experience. He founded the punk rock band Hed P.E. and toured the world, serving as guitarist, songwriter and producer. After eight years, Geer felt the need to change his lifestyle. He left the band entered himself into drug abuse treatment. With three years of sobriety under his belt, he joined Korn to serve as their touring guitarist, headlining events in 42 countries. His music has been featured in a wide range of media, from feature films and video games to radio and television shows. Having experienced the power of music to effect positive change in his own life, Geer founded Rock to Recovery in 2012 to help others overcome their challenges.

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