Preparing Students for Professional Roles by Simulating Work Settings in Counselor Education Courses

Article excerpt

The authors describe a method for preparing novice counselors for professional environments by using classroom meetings of semester-long courses to simulate college student affairs divisions, community agencies, school counseling offices, and other work settings.

Counselor training traditionally has balanced didactic instruction with "experiential exposure" to counselor skills (Rabinowitz, 1997, p. 216), through activities such as watching demonstrations, practicing foundation skills, and role playing (Froehle, Robinson, & Kurpius, 1983; Rabinowitz, 1997). Furthermore, the use of simulation exercises has received particular attention in counselor training as an experiential instructional method that is useful for engaging students in the learning process and enhancing the meaningfulness of classroom experiences to the learner's personal and professional life outside the academic setting (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Silberman, 1996). Simulation exercises extend basic role play by using a combination of scripted role plays to re-create situations that might occur in a professional counseling setting (Parker, 1991). Simulation exercises have been used to teach empathy (Barak, 1990) and basic counseling skills (Balleweg, 1990); general concepts, such as legal and ethical issues (Colby & Long, 1994); and advanced skills, such as family counseling (Dollinger, 1989) and organizational consultation (Parker, 1991).

Expanded Simulation

The simulation methods most commonly used by counselor educators are exercises enacted within tight classroom time limits and contexts. For example, in counseling skills courses and practicum seminars, client and counselor role plays often are conducted during a short, designated portion of an individual class meeting (Egan, 1990; Ivey, 1990). However, a recent innovation is the use of more extended exercises that involve multiple class participants, use richer scripted simulations, and take place over longer periods. Longer simulations using richer scripted roles provide students with more in-depth and realistic experiential exposure to professional roles and situations (Rabinowitz, 1997). For example, Parker's (1991) simulation to train beginning organizational consultants allowed multiple class participants to assume various realistically scripted roles (e.g., agency director, vocational rehabilitation counselor, job placement counselors) while solving a consulting problem; Rabinowitz's (1997) extended "client" simulation allowed student "counselors" to observe weekly client changes in response to their interventions over an entire "counseling" process.

In addition to counseling abilities and specialty skills, successful employment and professional attainment also require competency in dealing with workplace dynamics. For example, critical skills for surviving and excelling in professional settings include the ability to respond to organizational dynamics, interpersonal climate, and political factors (Payne & Pettinghill, 1986). In fact, Newman and Carpenter (1993) concluded that "political skills should be learned at the entry level and honed on the way up just like any other skills" (p. 223). Administrators tend to look not only for special skills in new hires but also interpersonal communication skills, the ability to manage multiple levels of responsibility, and general competencies (Benke & Disque, 1990).

To address such workplace issues with students who are preparing to work in college settings, we have further expanded the simulation method by using an exercise in advanced courses, which re-creates a professional "work setting," in each class meeting in its entirety, and lasts the full semester. In-class activities and interactions re-create work settings to provide simulated exposure to real-life work concerns, such as politics, organizational dynamics, economics, and constituency issues that influence college counselors and student affairs professionals in their everyday professional practice. …