Musical Healing

Clarity Way rehabilitation facility utilizes music as one of its roads to recovery
  • Photo: Tom Brown
    The Clarity Way recording studio
  • Photo: Jen Cavanaugh
    Clarity Way
  • Photo: Gladys Artis
    Justin Daniels, Clarity Way founder
  • Photo: Alba Thorn
    The Clarity Way recording studio
  • Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Thorn
    Christopher Thorn
  • Photo: Jen Cavanaugh
    Nick Rowe inside the Clarity Way recording studio
July 14, 2010 -- 1:27 pm PDT
By Bryan Reesman /

(MusiCares, The Recording Academy's own affiliated health and wellness foundation. was established in 1989 to provide a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares has become a leading force in the effort to identify, raise awareness of and address the problems of addiction in our industry. For more information on addiction and recovery resources, click here.)

In 2008 an estimated 20.1 million Americans age 12 or older were illicit drug users, according to the "National Survey on Drug Use and Health" prepared by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.

Within the music community, drug and alcohol use have been both a stereotype and reality. Musicians and industry professionals are often faced with unique occupational hazards, including performing in clubs and bars, the potential stress of life on tour or in the studio, easier access to drugs and alcohol, in addition to other recognized factors such as genetic predisposition and external causes.

After battling his own addiction issues, Justin Daniels was inspired to launch Clarity Way in December 2007 in Hanover, Pa., a rehabilitation facility specializing in individualized treatment programs catering to clients battling drug and alcohol addiction. Further inspired by a conversation with his wife's brother, GRAMMY-nominated Blind Melon guitarist Christopher Thorn, Daniels added a recording studio to Clarity Way's amenities.

The studio was designed by Thorn for musicians to play and create music in a safe environment during recovery, and features acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, a drum kit, and a Mac computer equipped with Pro Tools, GarageBand and Reason software. Clients are also invited to ship their personal musical equipment to the facility.

"If we come across someone who is in a band, and they have a record contract where they have to produce three albums, and there's one left, there's no excuse anymore why they can't go and get help and treatment," explains Daniels. "They can still do what their passion is — we can help them with the music side of it."

"It's just a perfect situation," says Thorn of the idea behind the studio. "I've had plenty of friends who have gone through recovery, and they've always been frustrated at the fact that they can't do their art while they're recovering. When my sister came to me and asked if it was a good idea, I thought it was a great idea. It's been successful, and I think people really appreciate the fact that they can do music while they're going through recovery."

Daniels points out non-musician clients at Clarity Way use music as part of their recovery process too. "They can do something, whether it's writing a song or learning to play guitar," he says. "There are things that people reveal when they start this process."

Clarity Way's music therapist, Nick Rowe, who joined the facility in March, has worked in different capacities over the last seven years of his career, including work with at-risk youth and autistic children, employing music therapy with people with cerebral palsy and spina bifida, and acting as a counselor for sexual addiction cases. His work at Clarity Way thus far has proved to be different from past experiences.

"A lot of the goals I had been working on before were communication skills, motor functioning and cognitive functioning, but now I'm working even more so with self-expression and exploring a person's past and allowing them to be incredibly creative," says Rowe. "It's different working with children and adults. Here I have people who have a history of playing music — playing guitar, drums or keyboards — which allows them to use that outlet as a means of expressing themselves [again] where they hadn't been doing it for a long time because of the drug use. They were masking what they could express in the past."

Rowe has found working with non-musicians at Clarity Way to be enlightening, and especially challenging when trying to make music completely accessible to a person with no musical background at all. The facility has a variety of hand drums and auxiliary percussion — djembes, doumbeks, bongos, and shakers — that clients can utilize in a small group improvisation.

"A person doesn't have to focus on creating melody or harmony," says Rowe. "All they have to do is [play a] rhythm. We all have this natural rhythm as it is. So a person can create music on many different levels. It's all about the way that I structure the musical experience to elicit that expression in a person." Rowe has also tried lyrical analysis of songs as a springboard to personal discussion, as well as poetry readings or writing blues songs based on the client's problems and their possible resolutions.

In the spirit of community, Daniels says music groups and individualized music sessions feature clients ranging from teenagers to senior citizens. "Folks that never thought they really had an interest in music find this unbelievable gift of being able to express themselves," he says. "Sometimes in the groups we'll have a 60-year-old, a 25-year-old and a 40-year-old, and they'll actually do a rap song together."

Rowe notes that he has worked with musicians who are able to sublimate their desire for drugs or alcohol by turning to playing. He explained how a client recently came to him after a rough day and was considering using alcohol and drugs to deal with his frustration. "We sat down and just played for a while as an outlet," recalls Rowe, "and it was just an incredible experience for him to be able to get the emotion out rather than numbing it."

Music aside, Rowe thinks clients coming to Clarity Way can benefit from the facility's well-rounded approach. "The clients here get to experience a wide variety of therapies and holistic approaches — talk therapy, massage, yoga, or fitness — and it's a whole-person approach, not just bringing a person in and sitting them down to a bunch of groups," says Rowe. "It's really well-rounded. Music therapy might not be right for one person, but they might really connect well with art therapy or the cognitive-behavioral therapy."

"The most important thing that people need to know about Clarity Way is it's a program [and] that we don't look at people as a group," says Daniels. "We look at people as individuals and completely tailor and individualized a program to each person. We meet the person where they need to be — where they are emotionally, where they are in their addiction — so it's very much a program that focuses on what they need, not what we need."

(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)

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