Fort Sill’s counseling culture rocked with new R2 course | Article

FORT SILL, Okla., Jan. 21, 2021 — R2 Performance experts are changing the minds of Soldiers one counseling at a time.The new Counseling Enhancement Course is teaching Soldiers how to shift counselings from a negative experience to a cohesive one.The two-and-a-half-day course was designed by Stephanie McGrath and Meg Helf, who both have psychology backgrounds in which they teach Soldiers readiness and resilience.“My colleague and I were getting a lot of requests to help improve the relationships we have in the Army,” said McGrath.While it may seem counterintuitive for counselings to be the time to bring Soldiers together, it often has a lasting impact on a Soldier and leader’s relationship.“We did research and interviewed a lot of people, just checking the culture of counseling to find out it’s not being done very often and how it’s being conducted is not effective,” said McGrath. “The course is unique in that we’ve really reduced Power Point slides for all of the skills and instead students are up and they’re moving. They learn motivation, they learn communication skills through active learning, and they come back and debrief on what they learned.”McGrath said the course’s creation was not just spurred from the events in 2020, but on the Army’s need for a way to teach Soldiers how to build relationships in general. Soldiers can read through the ATP 6.22-1, but it doesn’t give them guidance on how to build a cohesive team from a process that can be very stressful for both parties.McGrath and Helf structured the course around the psychology of what motivates behavior, how to effectively listen and communicate and how relationship building works.“We talk about privileges, how race and sex affect the way we communicate whether we know it or not. The biggest part is having that self-awareness, and how do you then tap into that and know when you’re talking to someone if a core value has been triggered in that moment,” said McGrath.Soldiers use real counselings as examples and role play them in front of the class, getting feedback from their peers.“The Soldier for instance is having some personal problems at home, and it’s coming out at work, but they’re a stellar Soldier. How do you even address that?” asked McGrath. “Then we have some where we’re trying positive counselings because it’s not common and we’re de-mystifying the idea that you only counsel for bad things.”The students said in the beginning of the class they were unsure of how to navigate through a tough counseling, even making light of it. By the end, they felt confident in their new abilities.“We would try and be that worst case scenario counselee, but in the end even if you tried to be that worst case, the counselors with all the knowledge that they gained from the course were able to break through those boundaries and get to the meat of the issues,” said Sgt. James Cotner, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery.Cotner said what is being taught in the course is different from how he’s seen counselings in his Army time.“Most of the time you walk in and it’s just ‘This is what happened. Please read that. Write that you understand everything. Alright, go ahead sign.’ There are sometimes it’s one on one with a full-blown conversation, but a lot of them is ‘This is what you did, this is what’s going to happen now-take the punishment’ and walk out,” said Cotner.Soldiers and civilians in the Directorate of Emergency Services recently took the course and were somewhat surprised by what they learned as a group that  typically used to one-on-one confrontations.“They work one on one with people all the time and even they were like ‘I really learned how to handle my own stuff when someone is being challenging and pushing back and I just want to push back at them, but knowing what is that going to lead to? If I know the goal is to build and maintain relationships, if I just use authority intimidation back to them it’s not going to lead to that,’” said McGrath.Feedback from other classes has been similar in that students said this course is vital to the counseling process and beyond.“I recommend this course to everyone. I think it provides a reference point. It’s being cognizant of what you’re doing. I’m doing this, this isn’t the most effective way to communicate, let me reapproach the situation,” said Pfc. Joshua Hibbard, 5-5th ADA. “It’s really a reflection upon yourself and how you’re going to tackle that challenge of getting the whole story, hearing their side of it, how they feel about it, how you can develop a change together, and how it can start to reflect better on the Soldier and yourself as a leader.”“Don’t think of (counseling) as an administrative thing, think of it as a tool to further the relationship. Don’t just take it as it is just something I have to do because I was told, make the absolute best of it because in the long-term it can prevent you from doing more,” said Spc. Nicholas Antoine, 5-5th ADA.To set up a Counseling Enhancement Course for a unit or organization, call 580-442-6054.