Johnson says farewell to Castleton

Lisa Johnson is evidence that being a good counselor is not just about textbook knowledge, but rather lived experience.

After providing free counseling to students for five years at the Wellness Center, Johnson is moving on to the next chapter in her life, and she is beyond grateful to her students and colleagues that allowed her to pursue her passion.

At 44 years old, Johnson realized it wasn’t too late to pursue higher education. She graduated with a master’s degree in psychology from the College of St. Joseph in 2017, and quickly accepted an internship at Castleton to complete internship requirements. But even after her hours were complete, she wanted to continue working – without pay.

She explained how this was her act of giving back after being sober for 14 years from opioids, and her life turning around after many hardships.

“Giving back is one of the things we do in sobriety,” said Johnson. “It’s really important to do service and to give back. Back to people, back to the community. I have a lot of gratitude for where I am in life and because I am able to give back. It really made such a difference for me.”

Johnson also shared her journey with two failed marriages and being a young, financially struggling single mother of three, saying that she “know[s] what it’s like to not be able to afford things.”

She has also lived with type one diabetes for 25 years, which was only more difficult to manage in the midst of her addiction.

Despite her mental, emotional and physical struggles, Johnson knew she needed to be there for her kids. Four months after being married to her third and present husband in 2009, she checked herself into a treatment center.

“The number one reason I got sober was not for myself, but it was for my children,” she said. “For me, staying sober each day for them is forgiveness.”

Today, she views those struggles as lessons and a way to better empathize with students.

“Whether it be drinking, husbands, anxiety, I can understand it, not just because I have the textbook knowledge, but also because I’ve lived it. I say to [students], I’ve walked in your moccasins,” said Johnson.

Martha Coulter, director of the Wellness Center, talked about how much Johnson meant to the center.

“When Lisa first arrived to meet our staff, she was wearing snug fitting leopard pants and I think maybe even a faux fur,” said Coulter. “I thought, ‘oh my, how would she fit in here? Would our students feel comfortable?’ Those concerns faded quickly, as soon as her down to earth, vulnerable, kind, and warm-hearted personality shone through. Lisa is very bright and insightful and is as generous as anyone I have ever known.”

When asked what staple advice Johnson would give to students at Castleton, she addressed the amount of pressure on students to “have it all together.”

“There’s a lot of pressure on college students today,” she said. “Fitting in, doing well in school, transition from home to collage, and just finding out who they are. I think that the hard thing is that we go through so many ups and downs in college…but that’s part of being human.”

She also emphasized being open to change, as students are quickly thrown into college life and then must adjust to post-graduation.

Johnson is soon moving to her home state of Florida with her husband, bringing her time at Castleton to a close.

“I will miss it terribly,” she said, but added that she is excited for the warmer weather and to spend more time with her children and grandchild.

But she is not completely leaving Vermont behind, saying she and her husband plan to come back seasonally.

“There’s something special about Vermont, and there’s something very special about the years I’ve spent here,” she said.

Johnson will be missed by her students and colleagues, but many share her excitement for a new chapter.

“We, her friends at the Wellness Center, have benefitted more from Lisa than can be expressed in words,” Coulter said. “We love Lisa and will miss her tremendously. Knowing Lisa has changed my life for the better, and I am certain that is true of my colleagues. She has clearly left a positive and life-changing legacy with her students. Lisa, we bid you farewell and all the best as you move on to the rest of your wonderful life!”

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