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Instruments of Healing: Using Musical Support in Recovery from Behavioral Health Challenges

Instruments of Healing, Inc.

Instruments of Healing: Using Musical Support in Recovery from Behavioral Health Challenges Logo

Program Website
Winner Status:
Program Type:
Target Population:
Individuals with Serious Mental Illness

Program Description

Instruments of Healing, Inc. (IoH) uses music in combination with peer support to inspire, motivate, and educate our peers in their recovery from behavioral health challenges. We have found that collaborative music making brings about self-esteem, confidence, and a feeling of belonging to a community. Our programs include discussion about using music in recovery, instrumental experimentation, group performance, solo singing, and sing-alongs. Our unique peer-run, peer-based organization brings an array of musical instruments for our participants to play during our programs. We travel to a variety of behavioral health wellness and treatment settings throughout Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. Our programs feature “musical peer support” that is non-judgmental, safe, and encouraging. Peers teach each other, share their skills and talents, listen attentively to each other perform, and enjoy music as a community. People who cannot express themselves in words often come out of their shells and express themselves through music at our programs. People who never spoke to their peers talk about their favorite songs together. People who have been afraid to try in life try out instruments and sing for their peers. IoH uses music as a means to take behavioral health recovery to the next level.


The creativity and innovation of Instruments of Healing starts with the use of peer support in combination with musical collaboration in our programming. This unprecedented practice is a highly successful technique in our participants’ recovery. Furthermore, IoH programs are set up so that no musical experience is necessary to participate. People play together during our jam sessions at a variety of levels – from novice to professional – respecting and supporting one another during their musical experience. Our participants pick out songs that are meaningful to them and that help them to express themselves. This collective, collaborative experience allows us to infuse a new element into the daily programming at behavioral health settings, adding a dimension of excitement and anticipation. Our program connects people, helps them interact in ways they never have before, and shows them they CAN when life experiences have told them they CAN’T.


After seeing how positively their clients/members respond to our programs, several of the organizations we serve have followed our lead. IoH encourages the organizations to implement music as part of their programming, and to purchase musical instruments for their clients/members to play at their locations. We have heard reports when we return to these locations about how people are now able to practice their favorite instruments on a regular basis and participate more frequently in music programs. This regular use of music has been reported to have a great impact on the clients/members’ recovery. As the organizations see these positive outcomes, they spread the word to other organizations; in directors meetings, county meetings, state meetings, and national/international forums. Our list of clientele/venues has grown tremendously since we started in 2013, and we are continually working on programming expansion. Please see the Results/Outcomes section for more about our success.


The resources that sustain and support our 501(c)(3) organization consist of revenue from programming fees, individual/business donations, foundation donations, and fundraising events. Grant applications are currently pending. An expansion plan is under way for our organization, and we are rapidly adding contracted venues to provide our music programs on a quarterly, monthly, or weekly basis. This is generating significantly more income than previous programming, and we expect our expansion to continue indefinitely. Partners include: SAMHSA, NAMI, Laura Galbreath and Cheryl Sharp with the National Council, On Our Own of Maryland and its affiliates, Dr. Alicia Lucksted with University of Maryland, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Eastern Shore Hospital Center, Cornerstone Montgomery, Family Services, Inc., Maryland Works (which awarded us 2015 Business Owners of the Year), Maryland State Office of Consumer Affairs, SCORE, VAPRA, MANO, and Nonprofits Montgomery. .


The model for this program is replicable, and has the potential to take place at any given behavioral health setting where peers can gather together for an activity. The program would preferably be peer-run by at least two (paid) facilitators who are talented at helping their peers to explore their musical worlds. Peer volunteers can additionally be used for set up and take down of musical equipment, instruction, and other needs. While programs can purchase instruments, quality instruments can also be donated. The programming itself is very easy to replicate. We have found that peer support happens very spontaneously and naturally during our programs, with little or no prompting. The participants alternate between intervals of instrumental experimentation/basic instruction (usually for novices) – and group performances /singing along to favorite songs (for everyone, with experienced musicians being showcased) for a programming period of approximately 2 hours.


Through consultation with staff at the University of Maryland Department of Psychiatry, we have gathered quantitative and qualitative data concerning our program. Here is a sampling of our results. Quantitative Outcomes: To date, our organization has served 2,984 participants; presented (exactly!) 100 programs; and has a cumulative satisfaction rating of 98%. Qualitative Outcomes: -After teaching her peers at our programs, a pianist/violinist is now giving music lessons as a means of earning income. -After sharing his talents at a program, a rapper consequently found the confidence to matriculate as a college student. -A drummer with severe depression attributes fewer hospitalizations to the monthly programs we give at his treatment setting, because they “give him something to look forward to.” – A participant who is struggling with a heroin addiction had the following words to describe his experience: “I would have been home using if I had not been here drumming.”