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A Rapid Response to Trauma: Providing Mental Health First Aid

A Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington counselor used her expertise to be present to those in a moment of crisis.

Elissa Wiggins (nee Kergosien) from the Family Services office in Fredericksburg stepped up last Friday, going above and beyond in responding to a crisis situation.

During a rainy drive to work, she saw a vehicle that had rolled off of I-95 into a ditch after running off the road. It was a bad wreck and a young man was helping pull a young woman out of the car. Immediately, Elissa pulled over to make sure they were OK. They were both upset and reeling from the shock of the crash. Always being prepared, Elissa opened the back of her car and had the 2 young adults sit and warm up as she had all the necessities – blankets, water, and chocolate.

Elissa’s emergency supplies that allowed her to be prepared to help those in need.

Elissa stayed with them and provided some mental health first aid while waiting for the EMTs and police to arrive. It is important for people who have gone through a trauma to tell their story, often several times over. Therefore, it is helpful to provide a listening ear and ask open-ended questions to keep them talking.  For example, she asked questions like “Tell me a little about what happened” or “How are you feeling”. In addition, she also asked them questions about their lives — “What are you studying?” or “What are some of your interests”, because it helped to draw their attention away from the wreck and focus on aspects of their lives.

Even though the two denied emergency assistance, Elissa did not leave them there, she drove them to a location where they were going to be picked up.

“This is a great example of being able to respond to the needs of the community as Christ responded to all those in need that he met, unreservedly and without hesitation,” remarked Dr. Michael Horne, Director of Clinical Services.

In her own words, Elissa reflects on the experience, “I was grateful to have the opportunity to stop and spend time with this young couple and to help them navigate through the process of speaking to various emergency professionals. I was also grateful for my training in clinical psychology and my experience in working with clients at Catholic Charities as this prepared me to be in a position to know how to speak with the young adults in the accident to keep them calm.”

Maybe the next time you come across people in need, you, too, could provide a compassionate ear and reassurance to a crisis situation.


Fredericksburg Family Services, located in Fredericksburg, serves the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, Westmoreland, as well as the city of Fredericksburg. The staff provides counseling (for an individual adults, children, adolescents, families, and couples), psychological testing and assessment, referrals for emergency assistance, and information. The staff participates in community development.