I’m really excited today to have Joanna Lilley with Lilley Consulting out of Gunnison, Colorado. We’re really grateful that you took the time to drive over the mountain to come and visit with us here in Estes. We’re looking forward to talking with you a little bit about your consulting practice, but before we do, let’s talk a little bit about you. How’d you get into this field?
It’s truly a like 12 plus year journey and to try to sum it up quickly, I worked in wilderness therapy for six years as field staff mostly, and then course directing, wanted to become a therapist, went back to school to get my masters in counseling, which I did, but it was while I was getting my degree that I had my first exposure to what are now college students, the young adults, that population and realizing how thick this epidemic was.
And so instead of going back to work with adolescence, which I had done for so long, and knowing too, that just because they’re 18 doesn’t mean that they aren’t still an adolescent at heart. All of a sudden though there’s a lot of changes and so I just kind of veered off. I worked in higher ed for another five years coaching students on academic probation mostly, doing some experiential work and then also serving on a suspension deferral treatment team. And long winded, is that through my last like two years in higher ed, I just realized that I didn’t want to work for a college because it is very much a business, and I didn’t want to work for a program cause there are a lot of really great programs. I wanted to work for that young adult, the entire family system, truly, and get them connected to the appropriate continuum so that they are actually stable and/or sober and, and on this path, right, the direction to their own purpose. Not a societal go to college as we have to do now kind of path, but…
Really finding out what their passion and their desires are and really helping them find those. Because I think we’ve created this expectation for young people that they have to… I don’t know if maybe it’s changing, but it feels like my generation was very much about you graduate from high school, you go to college, you get a job, you find a family, whatever that looks like and you just stay. But it seems like that world has changed a lot and while there still is some of that expectation, it’s not what it used to be.
Certainly not. I do think that there… Where you live geographically does play a difference. I mean, I grew up on the East Coast and so that is still instilled, right? Education is so important. Where you go is so important. Getting the degree, like, pick yourself up by your bootstraps, that still exists. I appreciate being in Colorado because I do think that that… We’re almost out of that sphere and we’re kind of leading the charge college isn’t going anywhere. You can certainly figure it out, but make sure you’re happy and figure out what your path is. And if college isn’t that, then okay. Right? Do your thing.
It’s interesting because the other thing that I’ve learned about this process as I have my own teenager that’s going to be graduating in a year, is this idea around the pressure that our kids are under now, where they have to, check all of the right boxes in order to get into school. And half the time they don’t even know what they want. They’re not emotionally ready. They don’t have the emotional intelligence yet to be able to make those kinds of decisions, which can be life changing. And so what you’re talking about is really giving them some space to really formulate their ideas, and try a lot of different things and not be… And I think it takes a big responsibility for, and I say this as a parent, to step back and give them the space to do that because obviously our generation didn’t think that way. And so, I think we’re going to find less people failing out of school and feeling like they’re floundering if we give them the time to really explore that. And it’s great that you offer, obviously the insight to families to help them see that, which I’m sure that alone is a challenge because we’re coming to our own biases around it, but also giving permission for our young people to be able to really explore what their true passions are.
So you really functioned a bridge, as a gap for families who are oftentimes in a tremendous amount of crisis. And we’ve seen that a lot on the phones, where families feel really sort of stuck in this quagmire. How is it that you work with families when they call you? What is it that you’re ultimately trying to do for them when they’re reaching out?
I think, navigating this entire process, right? So here’s the science behind it all. When you’re in crisis, can’t rationally think or it’s really hard to rationally think in addition too, you’re probably working a full time job. You might be also taking care of other children. I mean like there’s so many complex features to this and all of a sudden you’re in the thick of this crisis. How can we trust who we’re calling? Where do we even start with who to call? There is… It’s such a gamble and when you think about the financial investment in treatment, it’s not like we’re all made of money. So when you think about like, this is a lot, right? This is my insurance or this is coming straight out of my pocket. You want to make sure that you aren’t missing the mark from the get go. So, typically, when families are finding me, it’s because they’re at a place where either they’ve already done a little bit of the research themselves and they’re really overwhelmed and they haven’t been fortunate enough to get connected to an appropriate program yet, or they just know right off the bat, I cannot do this. I need somebody to help me. I need somebody who’s objective, who’s seen the space, met with the clinicians, and can continue to be a part of the process.
That’s the other piece too, is that I’m not just this referent of here’s this program, go here, go do your thing, and then kind of solute them off. I’m actually kind of doing this parallel process with them. Staying in touch with the clinical team, the case management team, so that day one, once they’re in this program, we’re thinking longer term, right? It’s not just, okay, good, you’re safe here for 30 days or however long that program is. We’re thinking about this titration, right? This continued stabilization and the continued recovery, and not just for that young person. It’s also for the entire family.
What’s interesting about that too is, first of all, you doing your due diligence is so important and I appreciate that you do that because we know that there’s a lot of people out there that just throw referrals out to the wind and they haven’t taken the time to really visit and see the program. But also recognizing that there’s a lot of changes that happen in organizations all the time. And so it’s not just about going and doing that one of visit, but really connecting and staying connect, in touch, because people move on, new people come in, processes change. And that’s where a lot of people find themselves getting stuck is, you’ve created an expectation of what you want and then you find out things have been turned upside down. So, I think it’s great that you function in that capacity as an advocate for families because they certainly need it in this industry especially. So you’ve got a lot of different areas that you focus on in regards to how you help navigate for families. And you talk on your website about a college success coaching component of what you do. Can you describe what that means?
Yeah, so it’s just my experience when I worked in higher ed was one of the hats that I wore was truly coaching students. A lot of them were already in this reactive state of, “I’ve kind of dug myself in a hole. How do I get out?” And so, having worked with a lot of, or at least tried to work with a lot more students on the proactive end, if there’s somebody transitioning from high school into college and they have preexisting mental health concerns or there’s already self-medication, this is where I am not an affiliate of the university, so takes off this pressure stigma of like, “Oh, I’m having to see this person,” and I can kind of coach them through what to expect, right? And before they even step foot on campus, already navigating what is on campus, in terms of resources and not just what’s on campus, looking at kind of the surrounding community. Okay, great. You had this therapist in your hometown, you may not be able to continue that relationship while you’re studying through 2000 miles away. And so how can we already get you lined up with a therapist who’s going to… Not just trained in the same modalities but have that relationship. And then if you’re also factoring in insurance, there’s a whole other… Like that’s another conversation in itself, but these are all things that I’m kind of coaching this young person through.
And although the parent’s the one who’s really saying, “Can you help my son or daughter?” Then I make it really clear to them that they’re actually the one, like this is their journey and I’m just there to help them so that yeah, you are going to stumble and fall, but how are you going to navigate that? And I become kind of this liaison too, to make sure that when they stumble and fall, it’s not this immediate text message to mom and dad, “I hate it here. Bring me home.” Right? Or they don’t tell anybody anything. And then all of a sudden they go home at the end of that first semester with a 0.0 GPA after having told their parents, “Everything’s great. I’m making so many friends.” And realizing that it’s not working out.
And I’m sure the shame around that is even more, And the family’s expectation of what that person’s success too. So it’s great that you function as a, like you said, a liaison between the family and the young person. So we always like to get to know the person behind the program. So, I’m going to ask you a couple of personal questions if you’re okay with that. If you had a giant billboard and you could put any phrase or saying on it, what would you want it to say?
Because of who I work with, right? This young adult, like in the thick of it, I really think that this billboard title speaks to the young adult and the parents, which is the expectation of just college can wait. It’s really simple. Right? I know that we are so driven to say, like you were just saying, at 16 at 17 you’re supposed to know what you want to do with your life. I definitely did not know what I wanted to do. I was not emotionally intelligent myself. And so I had my own hiccups when I was in undergrad. And I think that 10 years later I was in a much different place and you know, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world, but knowing who I work with, I just wish that I could explain to them, to their former self, not even three months before they went off to college, college can wait. Just if you hear that, and same to parents. College isn’t going anywhere.
Right, and it’s a lot of unnecessary stress at a young age. It’s not even really… I mean, they can do that later. Yeah. I’m with you. And if I were to offer up the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
I love that. It just immediately makes me think of singing and again, thinking about my clients, how so many of them are, to use that metaphor, they’re tone deaf or they’ve got multiple songs playing at once, not in harmony, or they’re trying to sing and everybody’s on different pages. I think that’s really the idea of harmony is just getting everybody as close to being in that same pitch as possible and kind of letting that organically flow. I don’t think it’s realistic to say that we’ll all be able to sing, right? Like nope, no person’s, family system is 100% perfect. We’re not always going to be singing together in harmony and how do you find that balance?
That’s the first time I’ve heard it said that way and I really like that. It really lines up really nicely with what you do. I thought that was perfect. If someone wanted to access Lilley Consulting, how can they get in touch with you?
The best way to find me is just my website. It’s www.lilleyconsulting.com. I’m pretty transparent, black and white. All info that you’d need is on the website and then my phone number is on there as well.
Wonderful. Joanna, thank you so much for taking time
Thank you Gina.