Counseling Training for New Leaders

Counseling is always something we talk about getting better at, but often what we are referring to is getting better at actually sitting down and doing it. When we train counseling, we are often training how to do developmental counseling and to fill out forms. But, we’ve all experienced really difficult counseling sessions and not always been prepared for that. As we seek to change ROTC to a more adaptive leader’s course, one area we looked at was counseling. We think learning by doing is one of the best experiences and when you put someone in an experience in a training environment that they are not prepared for, they will gain the mental agility to tackle a similar problem down the road. When we conducted training in class each cadet got a chance to tackle an uncertain scenario. They sat across from one of the cadre and received two things: a description of the soldier (a cadre member and a reason for the counseling session. There were larger role player notes that gave some direction to the role player and additional background that could come out during the counseling. It was tough for cadets, but they learned by watching others, conducting AARs after each and being put through the ringer. Below is a list of the 7 scenarios we used. We see this relevant to staff leaders and commanders who are looking to train their lieutenants or junior captains and also to those who have moved on to instructor roles. We would also be interested in any additional scenarios others could add. We hope this helps.

Counseling Scenarios:

Scenario 1:

The soldier: 26 year old decorated, 3 time combat veteran. Ranger-qualified and served in Ranger battalion before being kicked out for a DUI. Has served one deployment with the unit.

The scenario: This soldier is awaiting Article 15 non-judicial punishment from the Battalion Commander for going AWOL. He recently was arrested for DUI again and failed to make his court date or show up to work for 3 days.

Notes for role player: The soldier says the right things when he is confronted but presents a demeanor that shows something else. He seems to lack respect for the counselor’s authority and seems not to grasp the gravity of the situation. The counselor does not know the soldier lost his parents a few years ago and has been raising his teenage sister. This clearly is affecting him. Also, there may be lingering effects from PTSD. The soldier also has been using drugs to cope with his stress. He may reveal this given how the counseling goes.

Scenario 2:

The soldier: 30 year old SSG promotable with an unblemished record who got you through your first deployment.

The scenario: This NCO just got arrested for DUI. He is likely facing a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand and loss of rank (which will mean he not only loses his promotable status but goes down to sergeant).

Notes for the role player: This NCO went home and caught his wife of 10 years in bed with another man. He confronted her and she told him that she intends to leave him and take their three children with him. Since he “deploys all the time” she has a good chance of winning custody. The NCO has debt from when he is younger and now faces the prospect of losing half his income and retirement on top of the debt.

Scenario 3:

The soldier: 36 year old overweight specialist. The soldier spent most of the deployment sitting in the company rear CP on the FOB but lost one of his best friends.

The scenario: The soldier requests to see you in private and explains that ever since returning from overseas all he wants to do is play video games. He has no interest in his wife or kids.

Notes for the role player: The soldier claims to have PTSD and starts to get very emotional when he talks about his issues. Many of the other soldiers consider him a “fobbit” and shun him for not being out on patrol with them.

Scenario 4:

The soldier: 22 year old PFC who is being kicked out of the Army due to a pattern of misconduct. He has three years of minor infractions, has failed APFTs and has had an article 15. The soldier has received 9 negative counseling statements for things such as disrespect, failure to show up to formation, lack of standards, etc. He received an article 15 for mouthing off several months ago. Recently, he was late to the motor pool by a few minutes and told his specialist team leader to “fuck off”.

The scenario: The service member requested to come see you.

Notes for the role player: The solder continuously says that he cannot understand why he is being kicked out of the Army for being 5 minutes late. As the counselor tries to bring the conversation back to the soldier’s record, he appears to not understand. As the conversation goes on, the soldier uses threats such as a congressional in an attempt to stay in the Army and says things like, “My life is over”, “My fiancée is going to leave me”, etc. expressing suicidal ideations.

Scenario 5:

The soldier: 40 year old SSG who has served 16 years in the Army. He has 3 kids and a wife and pays a mortgage on his house and just recently bought a brand new, $45,000 truck. He has four tours to Afghanistan.

The scenario: You have to inform the SSG that the Army has QMPed him, telling him he will not be allowed to continue in the Army and not receive a retirement check. He will get some type of separation pay in the form of a lump sum.

Notes for the role player: The NCO is mad at the Army upon hearing the news and begins to bring up all of the issues facing him especially finances. He is initially distraught when asking the counselor how he will pay for everything and take care of his kids but then gets angry when he thinks about how he has served 4 years in Afghanistan and lost many friends and now the Army is unceremoniously releasing him. The soldier may indicate that he and his wife might get into a physical altercation over this issue.

Scenario 6:

The soldier: 40 year old SFC, your platoon sergeant. He is hard working, dependable and capable leader.

The scenario: The PSG just failed his APFT. He missed the pushups by 2 after having 15 not counted and missed the run by 3 seconds. You put him on notice that he has 90 days to pass.

Notes to the role player: You can play this one of two ways. One way would be to have the platoon sergeant shake it off like it isn’t a big deal, he is older than the rest, his body is broken down, he doesn’t need to prove anything. The other way would be to have the platoon sergeant start complaining about the test saying that he was cut 15 pushups and the standards were vague and that the run route was longer than 2 miles. The NCO may attempt to get rid of the counseling or tear up the form.

Scenario 7:

The soldier: 20 year old sergeant. He is a team leader and fast tracker.

The scenario: The company commander caught the young NCO smoking his soldiers and making them do degrading things because they were late to formation.

Notes to the role player: You reveal that you smoked the soldiers for an hour because it would teach them a lesson. You question why you are being counseled and when told that the CO turned you in, you start bad mouthing him and calling him soft, saying he is going to get people killed if he cares more about feelings than standards. If the counselor stands up for the CO, you ask him if he is loyal to his men or the CO. You say, “Sir, I know you are just out of BOLC, so let me tell you how we do it around here.”

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