Recovery Unplugged and Lifesize Are Using the Healing Power of Music to Fight Substance Abuse


In 2018, 67,367 people died of a drug overdose in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s about 185 people every day. Many more people struggle with addiction. In 2017, 19.7 million people aged 12 and over personally dealt with substance abuse.

This abuse has a ripple effect, devastating the lives of families and communities across the country. Meanwhile, the annual economic impact of substance abuse is a staggering $740 billion in lost productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs. 

Getting clean and staying that way is a challenge. Beating addiction takes hard work and perseverance, and many people need help finding their way back to a drug-free life. That’s where we come in. 

Healing Hands

Recovery Unplugged does rehabilitation differently. We are the first and only addiction care organization in the United States to integrate music into our treatment model. Our name references an iconic TV series from the 1990s, but the idea of music-based therapy goes back to the late 1700s, and the profession formally began between World War I and World War II.

During that time, musicians toured hospitals and played for veterans dealing with physical and emotional war wounds. Mental health professionals took note of the healing effects of music and created the first music therapy programs. 

We use both passive and active music therapy techniques to help individuals on their road to recovery. Our flagship program puts clients in the studio to write, produce, and record professional-quality songs to document their struggles and their triumphs. Other treatments include creating personal playlists that boost morale and self-esteem, and to serve as soundtracks to our clients’ healing journeys. We run lyrics analysis workshops that help those recovering from substance abuse find meaning in the words of their favorite artists, and we also host inspiring performances by musicians who are in recovery themselves. 

Music-assisted therapies can help create the winning conditions to beat addiction.

Giving people the “rock star treatment” has enormous health benefits. Music-assisted therapies such as listening, singing, and playing an instrument can reduce anxiety, lower heart rates, increase alertness and enhance sleep, relieve pain and muscle tension, and bolster the immune system. All of this helps to create the winning conditions to beat addiction. 

Let Me Upgrade You

I was introduced to Recovery Unplugged through a colleague and joined the organization as the director of IT in 2018. At the time, there wasn’t a well-thought-out roadmap for a long-term technology strategy. My predecessor understood how technology worked and how to put together solutions, but he hadn’t put much thought into the bigger picture. 

I came in at a critical juncture. We were exploring the idea of updating the video conferencing and remote work tools at our six existing facilities in Florida, Virginia, and Texas, and our soon-to-be seventh location in Nashville. Our people were constantly flying or driving between these locations, and travel expenses were adding up. 

We needed new collaborative tools to help us bridge these distances so we could provide better therapeutic services to our clients. We’d already tried other video conferencing solutions but had found them lacking. Zoom was fine for individuals when they were sitting in front of their laptops or on a smartphone, but if you wanted to talk to a roomful of people, you had to connect a computer to a big-screen TV and set up microphones and cameras. In some cases, that took a big chunk out of time out of meetings, and sometimes it even required the assistance of a technician, who could have been working on delivering other IT services. 

Because we operate in a Microsoft Office 365 environment, we also tried the Microsoft Teams video conferencing features built into Office 365. We had the same problem: If you’re on an individual laptop or desktop, it’s great. But trying to connect a roomful of executives in Florida to a conference room in Virginia was cumbersome and not user-friendly.

Hello Lifesize My Old Friend

When I saw the situation before me, a solution came to mind immediately. I’d used Lifesize at a previous job, and suspected it would fit the bill here, too. A couple of phone calls later, I’d set up a demo. 

I spoke to one of Lifesize’s employees. He wanted to know the size of our meeting rooms and the typical number of call participants at either end. His main concern was rightsizing the solution. Two days later, we unboxed the Lifesize hardware, plugged everything in, and connected it to the cloud. We were up and running in half an hour. 

As promised, Lifesize was plug and play. Now, I’m an IT guy, so something that I might think is easy can be too complicated for an ordinary user. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. Our clinicians are medical professionals, not technologists, but they were still able to understand and use the equipment in no time. 

One of the benefits of Lifesize is the platform’s flexibility. The plug-and-play conference rooms are only part of the equation. The company also offers desktop and mobile apps that allow users to join meetings from anywhere in the world on any device. This feature is critical because our people are often on the go and don’t always have access to dedicated meeting facilities. 

Talkin’ ‘bout a (Conference Room) Revolution

Lifesize offers tremendous value and a streamlined conference room experience. One of my favorite tools is the Lifesize Phone HD. This saucer-shaped device combines a dual-SIP speakerphone with a control panel that allows you to change room functions, adjust your camera, and share your screen. 

It plugs into your existing VoIP setup and interfaces with the Lifesize desktop and mobile apps. There’s no need to clutter your meeting space with extra hardware. 

Another great feature is the dual-screen mode that allows you to share your desktop on one screen while viewing video conference participants on another. Many apps force you to view everything on a single device, but Lifesize gives you the option of multiple screens. This functionality is especially useful during online training sessions and webinars. You can share an application window on one screen while still maintaining eye contact with all participants on another. We all communicate through gestures and body language, and this setup enhances the learning process. 

We also use Lifesize to conduct follow-up interviews with new hires. Again, visual communication is a much richer experience than a voice call at this pivotal point of the onboarding process. Now we have a way to facilitate these new relationships.

It took less than 90 days to roll out Lifesize at all our locations. We started with two offices in Florida: our corporate headquarters in Fort Lauderdale and a residential facility in Palm Beach. After we got these initial deployments working to our satisfaction, we moved on to our location in Austin, and then set up our Virginia operations before going back to connect two more facilities in Texas. 

While this was happening, one of our senior employees moved from Florida to open the newest Recovery Unplugged facility in Nashville. Before we dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s, she asked, “We're going to get one of the camera thingies, right?” She didn’t know Lifesize by name, but she recognized it’s a game-changing technology and wanted to make sure that her facility was equipped with it. 

Simply the Best

Our initial investment paid off right away. Within weeks of rolling out Lifesize, travel times and expenses plummeted. Our clinicians stopped driving between our Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach facilities and started video conferencing and remotely collaborating instead. That trip is 50 miles in either direction, and going back and forth between the two eats up a good chunk of a workday, not to mention the extra funds necessary for vehicle and fuel costs. 

Simplify collaboration, supercharge results—in any situation, wherever you are. @Lifesize #VideoConferencing #RemoteWorking

Another thing that sets us apart from a lot of organizations is that Recovery Unplugged is a 24/7 operation. There’s no telling where or when one of our clients may need help. Employees who work on different teams, different shifts, and at different locations may need to meet with colleagues who aren’t physically present. Often, they won’t have the time to give any notice. Lifesize’s desktop and mobile apps make it easy for staff members to collaborate under any circumstances.

Lifesize can also make a difference in an emergency. An experienced clinician can remotely share an effective treatment strategy with a recent hire who is facing an unfamiliar situation. Staff working at different locations can also share success stories and learn from one another through webinars and other distance learning activities. In this way, they can prepare for future situations and better help our patients in crisis.

Dreaming on with Lifesize

Our people have truly embraced Lifesize. Our executive team was hesitant about the initial investment, but they recognized that we couldn’t maintain the status quo. Fortunately, our accountants crunched the numbers and were able to see the bottom line: reduced travel costs and increased productivity yielded a massive return on our initial investment. 

We are currently using a purpose-built, HIPAA-compliant tool to provide remote therapeutic services, including AA- and NA-style group therapy meetings. Lifesize adheres to the provisions of the privacy bill, but our internal compliance team is looking into it for clinical use. We are hopeful that we will eventually be able to use Lifesize for these remote client services, further streamlining operations and eliminating the need for multiple solutions to best serve our patients.

On a personal note, Lifesize gives me one less thing to worry about. It is easy to set up, maintain and manage. We have more than 100 licenses now, and new hires are given access to the platform during the onboarding process. Typically, all I have to do is figure out whether to install it on an employee's desktop, laptop, or smartphone.

Our IT infrastructure is based on different needs from one location to the next, and that can be challenging. One day, I'm dealing with our client records platform, the next day with a MIDI interface at one of our recording studios. From an administrative point of view, Lifesize practically runs itself, and this allows me to focus on keeping the rest of our IT infrastructure working.

Tomorrow Is Another Day

Everything here is in constant motion, and that’s what keeps me at Recovery Unplugged. I was hired to untangle our video conferencing and remote work mess, but I stayed because at the heart of it, we’re saving lives, and no two days are alike. 

#Music can help people free their minds, mend their hearts, and rediscover the best in themselves.

Some folks are skeptical when I tell them what I do, and may have notions of music therapy being ineffective or a waste of time. They don’t understand that fighting addiction is a constant battle on all fronts. Here, we’ve found a way to help the healing process. We’re using music to help people free their minds, mend their hearts, and rediscover the best in themselves. 

As Led Zeppelin once said, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” The clinicians and musicians at Recovery Unplugged are using the power of music to combat substance abuse and help people choose a new path for themselves. In a way, Lifesize helped us do the same for our company, and I am proud to be part of the team.