Kelly Moreno | Courtesy

When a patient told him “I smoke with God,” psychotherapist Kelly Moreno didn’t think much, rather he just listened. Today, Moreno, a Cal Poly psychology professor, is using music and literature to share stories and concepts from his work as a psychotherapist, giving others a chance to listen as well.

“The arts – music, fiction, poetry – can be terrific alternate ways of conveying important psychological phenomena, concepts, stories, [and] cases,” Moreno said.

While currently on a six-month leave, Moreno, whose artist name is JK Moreno, has been working on his second album “He Smokes With God,” which includes songs inspired by his interactions with patients from his work in psychology and psychotherapy.

In September, Moreno went to Nashville, Tennessee where he recorded eight of the 12 songs to be on the album. He has been working on the album with recording studio Robbo Music, based in Morro Bay. The songs feature the violin, pedal-steel guitar, mandolin and more, played by multiple studio musicians. 

One of these singles he worked on, titled “He Smokes With God,” is based on a patient from a pro bono group Moreno led with Transitions Mental Health Association for people with severe mental illnesses.

“This guy comes in and joins the group, doesn’t say much, and comes back the next week and doesn’t say much,” Moreno said. “And finally the group starts to get curious about him.” 

The patient, referred to as John for privacy reasons, told the group that he doesn’t take medication and doesn’t have any problems, which Moreno said the other patients didn’t believe. Moreno continued to ask questions and wanted to know how John was doing so well.

“Every day at the end of the day, I go to the creek and pull up a bench, and I smoke with God,” John told the group, Moreno said.

Moreno continued to ask John about his time with God which instigated a conversation filled with laughter within the group. 

“It was a really sweet moment where, just because someone’s psychotic doesn’t mean they’re violent,” Moreno said. “Who am I to tell him he’s delusional?”

This experience, as well as others he’s had in psychotherapy, have inspired Moreno’s work as a singer-songwriter. Similar to “He Smokes With God,” the singles “Sick With Thought,” “Moodswing” and “Pitchfork Princess” are also written in reference to mental illnesses and psychology. Some of the songs that are also featured on the album are called “Six Thousand Places,” “There’s A Place For You” and “Don’t Wear Black For Me” which are based on stories from his own life, his relationships and the lives of others. “Don’t Wear Black For Me” is about Johnny Cash, a musician who inspires some of Moreno’s music.

This album wasn’t Moreno’s first time using a creative outlet to share stories from his work as a psychotherapist; in August 2020, Moreno released his first album, Elsinore, “which of course was a terrible time to release an album because I couldn’t promote it,” Moreno said.

In 2015, he published a psychological suspense novel titled “A Duty to Betray” about a “psychologist tossed into a wicked, legal, ethical, moral dilemma when a patient he’s treating refuses to tell his lovers that he has the HIV virus,” Moreno said. This novel took Moreno a total of 19 years to complete, from when he started writing to when it was published. 

More recently, Moreno started writing a second novel called “Reality Testing,” which he is hoping to finish working on and publish after he wraps up his work on “He Smokes With God.”

Moreno said that “He Smokes With God” doesn’t have a set release date, but that he might be able to release it as early as June on Spotify and Apple Music.