The Air Force has a continuing interest in improving the quality of counseling at all levels of supervision. Even at the lowest level of organization, problems arise that disrupt the performance of individuals and lower the efficiency of the unit. People with problems may not be able to solve them for a variety of reasons. The problem itself may be totally divorced from the CAP environment, but that fact alone doesn’t necessarily remove it from the realm of the leader. Your subordinate’s problems become your problems when they adversely affect unit effectiveness. The material in this section won’t make you a professional counselor, but it provides you with the knowledge necessary to develop the skills to conduct effective counseling sessions.
Characteristics of a Good Counselor
Counseling is a process whereby a qualified person purposefully assists another person to better handle his or her problems. Counseling is not just giving advice. It’s mutual trust and understanding. Ideally, counseling is an opportunity for you to help your people intelligently adjust to different situations. Counseling is a skill gained through knowledge and practice of time-tested fundamentals or traits. Although most of us are not inclined to invest the time to become a professional counselor, all of us can and should work to attain the characteristics of a good counselor.
A competent counselor should display sincerity, good listening skills, and integrity to successfully assist people in gaining a better understanding of themselves and their problems. A good counselor, above all, will be sincerely interested in the person and the problem. Insincerity is very easy for most people to detect, and it can seriously degrade the effectiveness of any counseling session. Sincerity comes in different packages surrounding the element of time. A sincere counselor will make time for the counselee and schedule the session so both parties have enough time to speak/listen. Next, a good counselor will listen attentively to what is being said and perceptively hear what the individual really means. Most of us are very good at talking but need to consciously make an effort to actively listen. Finally, integrity is a fundamental character trait for any successful counselor. As previously discussed under personal leadership qualities, integrity is the quality of being of sound moral principal, upright, and honest. A counselee is more likely to confide in a counselor of obvious integrity.
The counseling method is a term to explain the intended emphasis of your counseling session. Both method and techniques will aid a leader in the counseling role. The method a counselor chooses may be either direct approach (counselor-centered) or indirect approach (counselee-centered)—although a combination of both is often appropriate.
When the counselor assumes the initiative and carries a major part of the responsibility for problem identification and resolution he or she is using the direct approach. This approach has a long and honored history. James Carroll, in his book Face to Face calls this approach, "I talk, you listen" (44). Traditionally, people faced with problems and personal crisis turn for guidance to those they consider wiser and more experienced—this approach is useful in those cases. This direct approach to counseling might also be called the problem-solving approach. The counselor collects pertinent information with aims to determine the problem and cause. This may happen to some degree before the counseling session begins. During the session, the counselor discusses the problem with the counselee and sparingly makes recommendations or suggestions. Carroll also warns that the counselor must not stifle counselee input even though the directive approach is being used. Disciplinary counseling is another example of when directive approach may be appropriate.
The non-directive method (also called counselee-centered) was developed primarily by the renowned psychologist Dr. Carl B. Rogers. As the name would suggest, the counselor’s participation is minimal, and the techniques of reflection and acceptance are used to encourage the counselee to freely express himself. The counselor pays particular attention to the emotion and attitudes associated with the problem. Additionally, the counselee is encouraged to choose the goals, make the decisions, and take responsibility for those decisions. The counselor should genuinely have faith in the counselee to work out the problem. This method is limited by the ability and intelligence of the counselee. It is also limited by the desire of the individual to change for the better. Despite these limitations, the non-directive method of counseling is most appropriate more often than the directive.
The counseling techniques are a series of questions, or the process, to help the counselor conduct an effective session. Just as the counselor must determine the best overall method for handling each situation, the counselor should also selectively employ affective counseling techniques (questioning, encouragement, and non-verbal behavior) to ensure a successful session. First, when questioning, the counselor should ask questions to encourage the counselee’s participation. The questions should be few, but steer the counselee toward a solution. Avoid "why" questions because they can cause the counselee to become defensive. Also, avoid questions where the counselee could simply answer "yes" or "no." The counselor should strive to keep the counselee talking. Next, practice encouragement by making simple statements of support that reassure the counselee that the counselor is genuinely there to help. This can include sympathizing, like the statement, "I see this is a difficult subject for you." This technique will help keep the session from stalling if the counselee becomes angry or withdraws. Finally, the counselor should be aware of the nonverbal behavior—body language (actions, gestures, or even tone of voice) can distract the counselee. Crossing your arms or frowning can cause the counselee to withdraw or become angry. Sitting behind a desk, a counselor can come across as domineering or adversarial. Instead, sit at two chairs on the same side of the table. A comfortable setting goes a long way toward an effective counseling session. Additionally, the counselor should be aware of the body language coming from the counselee. For example, clenched fists may indicate unwillingness to open up. These techniques are best employed as part of a counseling plan
A counseling plan should be developed for every session and should include a meeting objective, method of counseling, and an opening statement. First, according to Carroll, the objective needs to be focused—not to, "improve his performance" but perhaps to advise him on your expectations (50). If you cannot leave the session with your objective being met, it is not an appropriate objective. Next, your objective should lead you to a decision on the method of counseling to be used. If, again, your objective is to advise the counselee of your expectations, then at least a portion of your session must be directive. Finally, opening the session by defining the problem and letting the counselee know what observations you have made is key to setting the tone for the session. The tone you set is dependent on your objectives and the method you have selected based on that objective. The opening statement should clearly define the purpose of the session and describe the situation as you, the counselor, see it. By doing these things you are off on a good step toward solving the problem. After your opening statement, however, you are on uncharted territory and must depend on the techniques discussed, your sincerity, and experience to guide both you and the counselee to an acceptable conclusion
Counseling does not have to be a negative event—it is simply your medium to communicate with your folks in order to accomplish an objective. This lesson is designed to give you a framework from which to learn—not to make you a professional counselor. Although no one can tell you when it will occur, it is important for you to realize your limitations and not try to fix problems you are not qualified to fix. Referring someone to a professional (i.e. a financial expert or other specialist) is one of the most appropriate actions you could take to assist someone in trouble. With time and practice counseling will become a skill that will serve you and those who serve with you for years to come.
OPR: CAP NHQ/ET
Last Revised 03/22/00