Connect
To Top

Meet Joanna Lilley of Lilley Consulting in Split between Arvada and Gunnison

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joanna Lilley.

Joanna , can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
It all started about 12 years ago during my undergraduate experience. As I was studying Recreation, Parks & Tourism at Radford University in Virginia, most of my cohort graduated and launched into jobs in the Wilderness Therapy field. I was one of them and went up to Vermont to work for a wilderness therapy program there. After that, I worked seasonally at a state-run wilderness program, alpine ski instructing, a short-term residential program, front desk work at a cross country ski resort, and a private school in the Bronx – all before starting my graduate program in Counseling. My initial plan was to get my Master’s in Counseling to return to Wilderness Therapy, but the universe had a different plan for me.

While I was in graduate school, I had an Assistantship within the Office of Retention where I was teaching executive functioning and academic success techniques. I also had a caseload of students on academic probation who I was coaching. It was during those meetings I realized that these students were absolutely academically capable, it was everything else in their life that was impacting their performance. I became so curious to this epidemic I was witnessing firsthand.

Without any effort, I just fell in love with working with young adults! At the time I had this epiphany of how I’d only ever worked with adolescents prior to grad school and now all of a sudden I was working with “adults,” who developmentally I thought mirrored many of the adolescents I’d worked with over the years. I was trying to sort out how I was going to marry my previous employment experience, my initial vision with getting my Counseling degree, and still continue to be able to work with this college-aged population that so desperately needed help. What I was seeing was significant mental health, substance abuse, and trauma – mostly untreated, with this almost robotic transition into higher education because it was culturally what their community told them was the only thing they could do to be successful.

So, I veered off my original track and went to work for another university full-time in the Office of Retention, again coaching students on Academic Probation. This time I had autonomy to create programming that would de-stigmatize mental health while normalizing the academic struggle for college students. It was so much fun, at least for me! I got to participate in other university retention efforts including Early Alert, U-Turn, Over 90 (stop-out), outreach to incoming students who were flagged for needing additional support, working with the Fostering Success Program (outreach & support for students identified as “independent” on FAFSA), and also serving on a suspension deferral treatment team. That was such a busy time! I loved it.

After coaching more students to getting connected with on and off-campus mental health resources, I started to water the subconscious seed in my head about what was really happening in higher education. Then within some of the treatment team meetings for the students in the suspension deferral program, I became a squeaky wheel in suggesting wilderness therapy or national treatment programs instead of trying to help a student just get to the Contemplation stage of change. No one likes a squeaky wheel, especially the squeaky wheel. And the straw that broke my back was witnessing two students being officially suspended from the university after being in that program for awhile and advocating for help. They were acknowledging that they needed help and wanted guidance and direction on where to go with the clinical team who they had built rapport with. Our hands were tied and more or less we said “we can’t help you specifically find a place, however once you’ve got four months of sobriety, we’d love to welcome you back on campus.” I felt sick about it, so I had to leave.

Not longer after that, I took a job in Denver that focused on the K-12 angle of college access which also allowed me the funding the flexibility to build what is now Lilley Consulting. I knew in leaving the university that I did that I was planning to open a consulting practice that specifically helped young adults get connected to resources by researching placements and then case managing once they were in said placement. This eliminates the roulette that’s played when a family goes to Google to get help finding any time of mental health or substance abuse treatment. You have to be so careful doing that!

Fast forward to where I am now – more than half of my clients are on the Front Range. They were either studying at a college in Colorado or were born & raised here. These students launched into higher education and were unsuccessful. I like to say they “unraveled,” as that paints a more graceful picture. They need help and families realize that finding a treatment program can be a financial investment. Like any other financial investment in your life, you don’t just chance it or buy on a whim. Hiring Lilley Consulting helps eliminate that altogether. We get the young adults, and family, connected to an appropriate program immediately, saving the family money. It’s a win-win because the young adult is also not experiencing more trauma or pro-longed treatment because of ending up in a place that wasn’t a good fit from the get-go.

Right now all but two of my clients launched into higher education, but I would like to flip the switch and have the majority of my clients being the ones transitioning into college that I can support from the start. I’ve seen what helps and doesn’t with students getting connected to on-and-off campus resources. College is another financial investment. Paying for tuition not knowing whether or not your young adult will be resilient enough to survive the challenges they will experience is a lot of money wasted. Worse, the young adult only has a failed collegiate experience to lean on. No one feels good about that. It’s time parents become more proactive about the transition into higher education. It can really be a sink or swing situation, and there’s a ton more young adults sinking these days.

Has it been a smooth road?
Oh my goodness, no. Oddly, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I was naive in the beginning thinking I could lean on other consultants in the area to help mentor and guide me into launching my own practice. Sadly, I was met with resistance to giving any guidance which came from a place of competition, and mostly words of discouragement on how I would not be able to survive in only working with young adults. If that doesn’t scare you off, I don’t know what would. I really pumped the brakes because I was afraid I’d made the biggest mistake in seeing this need, and then hearing it straight from other consultants that the need didn’t exist. It shocked me to my core. Needless to say, I connected with young adult treatment programs who suggested otherwise. They praised me for launching my own business, having a focus on young adults, and also saw the need. I was back on track to launch the business.

Other than the nuts & bolts of running a business, I’ve really learned everything as I go. There’s definitely some financial struggle in the beginning, but most folks I talked to said to expect that. The marketing to find the clients has been a challenge as well. Colleges won’t refer directly to me, let alone admit my type of service being a resource for students. Some Therapists don’t see the need for my service, especially if it takes a client away from their caseload, and parents have no idea that someone like me exists. I’ve been writing a ton – articles, blogs, being interviewed on podcasts, creating videos, etc. Just trying everything to get the word out that someone like me exists, and that needing help is normal. So, yea, Marketing has been fun!

Again, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. I’m helping young adults and their families and that’s all that matters.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Lilley Consulting – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I spoke a lot about this in the question about my history and how I got to be where I am today. To summarize, Lilley Consulting is a Therapeutic Consulting company that helps connect young adults and their families to mental health and substance about resources – locally and nationally. We can support young adults with unsuccessful attempts in college experience success academically again, and move forward with launching into true adulthood. We connecting families to resources that allow them to better communicate with their young adult, and better understand how to parent a young adult. Sometimes I refer to myself as a Young Adult Treatment Specialist. That too, doesn’t connect parents to me.

My specialization is in the emerging adulthood population. Whether it’s transition to college, transition out of college to get treatment and go back to school, or transition into adulthood post-college graduation. These are all extremely tumultuous times in a young adult’s life. It’s hard to support all the changes, and did I mention that Millennials and Generation Z are struggling more so in these transitions that former generations?! It’s a big deal. The mantra “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” seriously does not work with these generations. In fact, it does more harm than help with them. I’m one of the only consultants in the US focusing on therapeutic placements and resources for young adults. Most consultants work with both adolescents and young adults. My focus is on the college-aged students I saw struggling when I was working in higher education. That’s my niche and I’ve been told it sets me apart from others. I’m proud of this specialty. I followed my heart in creating a business that is really helping young people to be stable, sober, and find success as they launch into being adults.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
The Denver metro area has become a real hot-bed for young adults to launch. We are seeing so many out-of-state students coming here to go to school (between Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs) and it’s shifting the culture. Not to mention the influx of post-graduates who are moving to the Denver area to work jobs straight out of college. It’s hard not to love a city that may be 65 and sunny in January and you can drive 1 1/2 hours into the mountains to be skiing on fresh snow in the double digits. It’s kind of a dream. And with that dream, there is a real reality check for some of these young people. Life can be uncomfortable sometimes. When you can’t get over the discomfort, that’s when it’s important to get help. The invitation for these young people to move to the area really is the best part and my lease favorite part of the city. We just need more resources for these young adults!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
The Denver metro area has become a real hot-bed for young adults to launch. We are seeing so many out-of-state students coming here to go to school (between Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs) and it’s shifting the culture. Not to mention the influx of post-graduates who are moving to the Denver area to work jobs straight out of college. It’s hard not to love a city that may be 65 and sunny in January and you can drive 1 1/2 hours into the mountains to be skiing on fresh snow in the double digits. It’s kind of a dream. And with that dream, there is a real reality check for some of these young people. Life can be uncomfortable sometimes. When you can’t get over the discomfort, that’s when it’s important to get help. The invitation for these young people to move to the area really is the best part and my lease favorite part of the city. We just need more resources for these young adults!

Pricing:

  • If a family is interested in inquiring on my services, they can contact me through my website or call 970-218-9958. My fee varies depending on the services requested. A family can anticipate around $100/hour for the work, which is equivalent to a private pay therapist. I can estimate the total number of hours I’ll be working for that family based on the service they request. I also do sliding scales after speaking with families if they need financial assistance.

Contact Info:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in