Human Services Counseling Program
Firefighter and Coordinator, Critical Incident Stress Management Team
"When I saw the balance of skills, theory and practical application [in Regent's HSC program], I was definitely impressed."
Ellen Vest is invested in the community. The long-time firefighter from Newport News, Va., is also coordinator and administrator for the region’s Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team. Her work brings her face-to-face with people devastated by crisis. On any given day, she could be dealing with the heartbroken parents of a child killed in a car accident, co-workers injured on the job or a family displaced by a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. “Being able to meet people where they are and draw them out so that they feel safe expressing themselves—that’s a big part of our world,” says Vest.
A mission trip to Uganda in 2005 with Regent Professor Dr. Evelyn Biles introduced Vest to some of the concepts taught in Regent’s Human Services Counseling (HSC) program. “When I saw the balance of skills, theory and practical application, I was definitely impressed.” So was her CISM team. Traditionally, CISM teams are made up of mental health professionals on one side and peers from helping agencies such as law enforcement, medicine and emergency services on the other. Vest’s HSC credentials and her background as a professional firefighter qualify her to play both roles. She says her education has also had an impact on her personal life.
Most recently, she’s been involved with her church’s jail ministry where she meets regularly with women whose issues range from fear to anger to grief. Vest’s goal is to create a safe place where the women can identify and explore their issues. She believes the listening skills she’s learned at Regent—and the foundational principles and values they’re based on—have had a measurable impact. She laughs when she recalls a woman in one of her first groups. “At the end of the six-week session, she looked at me and said, ‘You know, you’re one of my favorite people even though you haven’t really said a lot!’”