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“Accept Help — As I mentioned before, every helper needs a helper. ” With Beau Henderson & Paul Pellinger

Accept Help — As I mentioned before, every helper needs a helper. It’s important to have support around you that helps you see things in different and optimistic ways. Taking your time to look at issues as they come instead of allowing it to become one huge problem — those problems tend to never get solved. […]

Accept Help — As I mentioned before, every helper needs a helper. It’s important to have support around you that helps you see things in different and optimistic ways. Taking your time to look at issues as they come instead of allowing it to become one huge problem — those problems tend to never get solved. Most people need outside support or help because it’s hard to consistently depend on their thinking. From a mental standpoint, it is so helpful to have a support group.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Pellinger — Recovery Unplugged — Co-Founder/Vision Leader.

The Recovery Unplugged music-focused addiction treatment approach was primarily developed by Chief Strategy Officer, Paul Pellinger. Paul’s years of experience in the addiction treatment industry combined with his deep love of music, and his belief in its ability to heal, led to the formation of the Recovery Unplugged care philosophy that has helped so many find their way to lasting recovery.

As the Chief Strategy Officer, Paul oversees virtually all operations of the Recovery Unplugged organization, assists with many aspects of our marketing efforts, and acts as our most committed and enthusiastic brand ambassador via press interviews, media requests and public-speaking engagements. A Certified Addictions Counselor for over twenty years, Paul has also been a therapist and helped create and design the Mental Health and Drug Courts in Broward County over 25 years ago. He has worked as a court liaison, helping people find their way to treatment in lieu of incarceration. Through his consulting company, Principle Liaison Services, Paul helped assist between 30–40 treatment centers successful obtain licensure and establish their operations.

His children, Hunter and Tyler, were his inspiration to develop and create a treatment method that uses the power of music as a catalyst to engage the existing evidence-based models. They continually motivate him to improve as a professional, an organizational leader, and most importantly, as a person. When he isn’t helping save lives, Paul is a diehard Yankee fan, loves spending time with his children, and enjoys playing golf.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Ialways say most people in the helping profession need help themselves and I will speak for myself. In the 1980’s I was in active addiction. I ended up hitting rock bottom. I was homeless, suicidal and completely feeling hopeless. I was in-and-out of a variety of treatment centers throughout those years. The last and final treatment center I was in was called a long-term therapeutic community where you are in treatment for at least 1–2 years. By the time I moved into the re-entry level of treatment the treatment center had put me through a training program to become a counselor. The reason why they were so willing to do this was because one day a therapist didn’t show up and the director said, “Alright Pellinger, why don’t you run the group today big shot!” I will admit I was a bit cocky and arrogant back then. So, I lead the group and because of the response, everyone thought I was a natural fit to be able to help people based on my own experiences. They then decided to help me go to school where I was able to get my degree and ultimately become a Certified Addictions Professional. Through my struggle, it was all meant to be. I was on the path to begin helping others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It was sometime around 1999, I had been a therapist for about 6–7 years, and I was frustrated with the results the industry was seeing with traditional addiction treatment. At that point during my career, I was working as a court liaison. One afternoon I was picking up a client who got a sentence downward departed from 20 years in prison for a gang-related offense. He only served 8 years and the judge was allowing me to give him treatment instead of the rest of his sentence. To give you a picture, he was a pretty rough guy, he had tattoos of swastikas on his arms and was a very intimidating looking dude. I was in the van with him on our way to the treatment center and halfway house when a song by the Marshall Tucker Band called, “Can’t You See” came on the radio. I looked in the rear-view mirror just to check on him and he was crying. When I turned around to ask him if he was OK and he said well, this song reminds me of my wife. She had died while he was in prison. One of the lyrics in the song alludes to not being able to say goodbye. Through that song, he was able to begin opening up. A breakthrough like this in traditional therapy, in most cases, can take hours or even multiple sessions of therapy. It occurred to me that even though I had already begun using music in group therapy — there must be a way to harness this. Music has power. This is what I needed to combat addiction. This was one of the turning points in my career — to focus on using music as a catalyst to combat addiction

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

Back in 1995, I was at a meeting talking about “It’s not about the drugs anymore.” I was giving lots of psych-babble and program data, I was in my 20’s and I was about 3 years clean at the time. I was a young therapist and on a roll with my career. The protocol for this particular meeting was to allow people to share their opinion but you are not allowed to rebut it. Well, some guy spoke up after me and said, “I don’t know who the hell you are, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, etc.” I remember thinking who the heck is this guy coming in my homegroup speaking to me this way! After the meeting, I decided to confront him. As I made my way over to him my friend said, “That guy is Richie Supa — the guy who took Joe Perry’s spot with Aerosmith!” Stunned, I walked right over to him and said, “I am sorry if I offended you” and offered him a hug. Twenty-five years later he would be my creative director at Recovery Unplugged and we have been close friends ever since.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

For me, there wasn’t just one person. The people that I would attribute my motivation and success in using music to help people are my parents. I would watch my father come home from work and he would be in a bad mood and dead tired and then my mother would put on a record from The Platters or Dion and the Belmonts. I would watch how their mood and energy would immediately change, how they would start smiling at me. I thought, wow just by putting on a record their attitude and mood would immediately change! Music even back then had power. When my two children Hunter and Tyler were younger, we would spend weekend mornings putting on music while having our breakfast. Sometimes it would be music from Michael Jackson and we would all be dancing and singing together, and I would notice how it was unifying our family. My children for sure are my biggest inspiration to want to break the cycle of addiction.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

When you are on a plane and a flight attendant goes through the protocol of what to do if the cabin loses pressure, put the mask on yourself first and then help others; it’s kind of like that. The problem for people in helping professions is that they ignore their own needs because they are constantly giving to others. As a result of constantly being around disease, dysfunction, and addiction all day long — it tends to wear on you. This is why I started a Two Hatter meeting, a support group for therapists who can go to 12 — step meetings and not have to worry about privacy issues. It helps therapists focus on their emotional needs. Every helper needs a helper.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

One of the things that have always surprised me in the 30-years I have been in the treatment industry is that most owners only hire staff based on credentials and work experience which indeed is important. However, additionally, in this industry where clients are exceptionally intuitive, you need to trust your gut instincts. You have to choose people who are a part of a team that wants to make a difference and are there to serve others. You have to look for solutions-oriented people. The culture that I have helped to create at Recovery Unplugged is due to having a staff that has all passed the “gut test.” We have an open-door policy. As an owner, I value the opinions of my staff and when we have meetings, we are all on the same level. I always encourage collaboration. We place more focus on affirmation than confrontation.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have a mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

Spiritual Fitness — Faith that there are bigger forces at work. Whether this is religious or not. Often, people struggle with life on life’s terms. As a result, from that, they do not have hope and faith that they can get through it. So, an example of this happened a few weeks ago. I was at the top of a 12,800-foot peak in Breckinridge, Colorado looking out at the landscape with my children. There was something about that moment I was in that was just magical to the senses. It occurred to me at that moment that there is something greater going on in the universe beyond what I could ever possibly comprehend. Nature can be highly therapeutic.

Accept Help — As I mentioned before, every helper needs a helper. It’s important to have support around you that helps you see things in different and optimistic ways. Taking your time to look at issues as they come instead of allowing it to become one huge problem — those problems tend to never get solved. Most people need outside support or help because it’s hard to consistently depend on their thinking. From a mental standpoint, it is so helpful to have a support group.

Physical Fitness — Not paying attention to your diet and getting the recommended amount of exercise is detrimental to mental wellness. Whether that be through yoga, walking or even just stretching. Pay attention to the foods that you put in your body. Many clients will say things like, “I am feeling anxious today.” When we find out they are drinking heavy amounts of energy drinks and coffee drinks we often say well, how can you not be feeling anxious, So, it’s important to stay focused on how you take care of your body as well.

Create a Gratitude List: Focus on 2–3 things you should be grateful for. You may have heard the saying; I was upset that I have no shoes until I saw the guy who had no feet. What I have had to learn is that life is not about what happens to you it is about how you perceive it. Some people can wear life like a loose garment and just let stuff roll-off. I am not necessarily one of those people but what works for me is being grateful. For example the other day I had a tough day for a variety of reasons but when I came home to my children who are healthy and doing very well it immediately changed my mind about all of the insignificant stressors that I experienced that day. My children are healthy — this put things into perspective and allowed me to focus on what was more important.

Take Action: This connects to the other four ways to optimize mental wellness. Everything I have said depends on me taking action. What can I do to stay consistent? This is what is great about music. My suggestion to readers is to come up with a routine where you can use music as a catalyst to change your mood which will ultimately give you energy and keep you motivated to stay on track. There is a science behind music’s ability to help with the pleasure sensors in the brain. The next time you are stuck in traffic put on your favorite song and see if it doesn’t temporarily change your mood!

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

One of the biggest obstacles and blockades in mental wellness is self-centeredness. One of the reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous was even born is because they recognized that helping others makes you feel better too. Most people focus on things like having a 401k or an annuity or retirement plan — is that important? Of course! For me, I would love to golf all over the world when I retire but I think besides doing all the things you want to do for yourself during retirement, people should consider finding ways they can serve their community, their country, and the world-at-large in making a difference. In my opinion, it will help you stay young but also divert some of the focus from self-centered fear.

How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?

I don’t think my idea is new. It might be new to teens and pre-teens. When I was growing up, we did not have cell phones or PS4’s. We sat down at dinner every night with our family, we were able to talk about what was going on with our day, etc. Now we see families who while in the same house are communicating through text messages versus using verbal communication. As a result, we’re creating, in my opinion, a generation of people who do not know how to communicate consistently or respectfully especially when it comes to emotional and vulnerable situations. The consequence is that issues get bottled up and it creates more stress. My suggestion is to reinforce the balance of communication. In my home my children are also addicted to their cell phones and PS4 etc. but I make it a priority to talk to my children

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The book Creative Visualization written by Shakti Gawain. I read this book over 20 years ago. It is all about the powers of positive thinking. I do believe that a lot of the opportunities I have had are a result of putting this book into practice.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have already been a part of a few movements. One of the things I noticed 25 + years ago, most of the crimes being committed were drugs and alcohol related as a result of that, people were being sent to prison instead of getting the help they needed. So, I worked with a team to develop drug and mental health courts back in the late ’80s which are now used as a model for the rest of the country. People don’t stay clean unless there is more of a payoff than getting high. Recovery Unplugged is more than just a treatment center that is located in some of the best cities for music in the U.S., we are a movement. We are teaching our clients how to have fun in recovery. We show them what the payoffs are from recovery and how it is worth so much more than getting high. We don’t focus so much on relapse triggers; we focus more on recovery triggers. The #iPartySober movement is an outlet for people already clean and sober to learn how to have fun in recovery without using drugs and/or alcohol. We’ve proven it time and time again through the massive following nationwide by showing people that they too can party clean and sober.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite quote is a lyric from the song, Already Gone from the Eagles, and the lyric is, “Oftentimes it happens that we find our life in chains and we never even knew we had the key.” That lyric for me was very empowering. I grew up in a household where my family had very fear-based or crisis-oriented thoughts about things. I still at times must permit myself to believe that everything is OK, and it can still be a struggle. So, I realized through Glenn Frey and Don Henley who wrote that song, that I have the key, and if I am stuck in fear or crisis in my thoughts, that is my choice. Today I choose to live free and breakthrough those chains.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Please visit my website at PaulPellinger.com, RecoveryUnplugged.com and follow me on Instagram: @PaulPellinger, Facebook: @PaulPellinger

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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