Rachel Colbert, Psychology & Counseling, '07
Rachel Colbert, U.S. Air Force Veteran
Capt., U.S. Air Force
Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
When a B-52 bomber crashed off Guam last summer, killing six crew members, Capt. Rachel Colbert's phone rang about an hour later. Colbert '07 (Psychology & Counseling) runs the mental health clinic at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana where the plane was based. Helping crew members deal with such a loss is one of the many duties she has as the only psychologist serving the base's 7,000 active-duty service members.
After the crash, Colbert talked to members of the unit, helping them face their fears. "That was pretty grueling," she says. "A crash brings up your own mortality, knowing you could die flying. A lot of times you put that in the back of your mind, because [otherwise] you can't function."
Colbert is serving her psychology residency with the Air Force, where she is gaining experience and responsibility well beyond what she'd get in the civilian world. "Outside the military I would never get this much responsibility and experience," she says. "I graduated a year ago, and I am running a clinic. This level of hands-on training wouldn't have been possible if I had chosen a civilian residency." She sees people for depression, anxiety and sleep problems, as well as emergencies. About 50 people come through the clinic in a week.
Most recently she is juggling all this along with a newborn. Colbert and her husband, Wes, greeted their baby in March. This meant six weeks of leave, and Colbert returning to work, helping other families deal with deployments. She's well-equipped for that challenge.
Colbert and Wes met in high school but reconnected 10 years later when Wes was serving in the military. He was deployed soon after. "He got out in 2006, and I went in," Colbert says. Wes now works for Goodwill Industries, helping adolescents find jobs.
"When people come back from a deployment, they may have a hard time adjusting," Colbert says. "Family members have been taking care of things, such as finances, that the [service members] may have been doing before they were deployed. The spouses may want to keep control of what they were doing because they're good at it. Also, service members are used to doing life or death maneuvers while deployed, and then they come home and get asked to take out the trash. It's a big difference. It's a transition for both the military member and the spouse."
Colbert also works with primary care doctors as part of a program to help patients whose health problems, such as insomnia, are related to emotional issues.
What she learned at Regent helps her meet these challenges and has prepared her for leadership roles. At Regent, Colbert grew as a person and a therapist as she worked closely with a research team that developed an online enrichment program for marriages. That experience has helped her in the military, where she often counsels couples who have married young and then faced problems as they matured.
Although Regent is bigger than she initially thought, Colbert appreciates the close relationships with professors—especially from her mentor, Dr. Jennifer Ripley. She also values the hands-on opportunities that she believes she wouldn't have gotten at a much larger school. "I was Dr. Ripley's teaching assistant," Colbert says. "I co-authored a book chapter with her. She helped guide me on my dissertation. She helped guide me to different conferences and mentored me, helping me get involved professionally in the field. Working as her teaching assistant and working on other projects, I learned a lot about leadership skills. I really liked the fact that the professors were our mentors, and we could develop relationships with them."
Those relationships came in handy during the inevitable stress of graduate school when she needed encouragement. "You don't know if you can finish," Colbert recalls. "You get frustrated. Dr. Ripley would encourage me, tell me to keep going, tell me I was doing a good job. She was a great mentor."