DA Form 4856: Army Counseling Tips

In today’s post, I’m going to educate you about DA Form 4856 and share my best Army Counseling Tips.

As an Army leader, you have the responsibility to mentor, train, develop, and lead your subordinates. Part of doing that is by conducting WRITTEN, FORMAL counseling with each person you supervise on a monthly or quarterly basis (depending on their rank).

While this is “supposed to happen” it normally doesn’t. In fact, visit any Army unit, and I’d bet 80 to 90 percent of the Soldiers, NCOs, and officers have not be counseled at all. It’s a sad reality.

Counseling is a GOOD thing. When you are on the receiving end counseling helps you identify your strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings, and performance. When you are on the giving end, counseling shows your subordinates that you care because you took the time to do it. I honestly believe that the only bad counseling is the counseling that doesn’t happen.

If more leaders made time in their schedule and actually use DA Form 4856 to conduct formal counseling with their subordinates, there would be fewer problems in the Army. When used properly this form is a great way to reform bad behavior, recognize good behavior and provide feedback to the people you supervise.

da form 4856

When to Use DA Form 4856

DA Form 4856 can be used in a variety of different ways. You can use it for:

Initial Counseling: When you start a new job (or have new people assigned under your supervision) you should sit down and counsel them in writing within the first 30-days. You can tell them your performance and professional expectations you have of them.

Follow up Counseling: If you are working with E4s and below, you can use this form for your monthly counseling. This provides an assessment of the Soldier’s performance for the month. If you are working with E5s and above, you can use this for your quarterly counseling, in addition to the other resources available, such as a Support Form or JODSF.

Event Oriented Counseling: While most leaders use DA Form 4856 when a Soldier does something wrong, it’s also a good idea to use it when a Soldier does something well, too. I’ve always believed you should put everything in writing: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some examples might include: failing the APFT, scoring a 300 on the APFT, being late for formation, shooting 40 of 40 of Weapons Qualification, or any discipline issue.

Sections on DA Form 4856

Admin Data: This includes the Soldier’s name and personal information. It’s pretty much self explanatory.

Purpose of Counseling: This provides the purpose of the counseling. The three most common reasons include performance, professional, or event-oriented.

Summary: This provides of summary of what happened or gives the details of the situation you are talking about.

Plan of Action: This is the plan of attack, which covers what will happen to fix the problem. It could be what you plan to do to the Soldier for corrective behavior, or outlines an assignment/task they must do to remedy the situation.

Assessment: This is another important and often underutilized part of the form. This is where you follow up on the action in the days to come to see how the Soldier has resolved the issue, improved their behavior, or completed the assigned tasks.

Types of Army Counseling

What are the different types of Army Counseling? After searching through FM 6-22 and several additional resources online, here are the different types of Army Counseling I could find. Please keep in mind you could find a situation that might fit into one or more categories.

Event Oriented Counseling: Probably the most common type of counseling in the Army, an event oriented counseling is for a specific event, such as being late for formation, missing a suspense, failing an inspection, etc.

Reception & Integration Counseling: When a new Soldier, officer, or NCO arrives at a unit, their first line supervisor is responsible for conducting the RSOI Counseling. This tells the Soldier their job description, personal and professional expectations, information about the unit, etc.

Crisis Counseling: When a Soldier faces a crisis such as a divorce, a marital affair, a death in the family, or any other traumatic event, their supervisor should conduct a crisis counseling with them.

Referral Counseling: A Referral Counseling is when a Soldier gets referred to the Chaplain, the Army Substance Abuse Program, Mental Health Agency, or another agency. It’s basically when the supervisor tells the Soldier they are being referred somewhere.

Promotion Counseling: When a Soldier is eligible for promotion, gets selected for promotion, or non-selected for a promotion, their supervisor should do a Promotion Counseling with them.

Adverse Separation Counseling: In the event the Soldier will be separated from the military for something adverse, the rater or commander will do an Adverse Separation Counseling telling them what they did wrong, what will happen, and what their rights are.

Performance Counseling: A Performance Counseling simply covers a Soldier’s performance during a specific period of time, normally monthly or quarterly.

Professional Growth Counseling: A Professional Growth Counseling tells the Soldier about career advancement, attending military schools, what they need to do to improve, what they need to do to get promoted, etc.

All Army Counseling is done on DA Form 4856. To the best of my knowledge, these are the only types of Army Counseling.

Army Counseling Class

In the paragraphs below, I want to teach you the ropes of Army Counseling and help you become a better leader. This is by no means a 100% solution to your leadership challenges, but it will provide you a basic foundation about Army Counseling, so you will know what you are supposed to do.

Leadership development is the most important responsibility of every leader. One of the best and most effective ways to develop your subordinates is through performance counseling. When it comes to counseling, you have two options: verbal counseling and written counseling. While verbal counseling is better than no counseling at all, written counseling is at least 10 times more effective.

When you put things in writing, two things happen. First and foremost, the Soldier will take you much more seriously. Additionally, you will create a paper trail, in case you need to recommend a UCMJ Action or write a bad evaluation report for the Soldier. When in doubt, I recommend you put everything in writing. Listed below are the steps you should follow to conduct your counseling properly.

STEP # 1: Educate Yourself

The first thing you must do is educate yourself about Army Counseling. I recommend you read Army FM 22-101 (Army Leadership Counseling), FM 6-22 (Army Leadership) and FM 7-21.13 (Soldier’s Guide). These FMs will give you an overview of your responsibilities as a leader. Make it a goal to read for 30-minutes per day. Within a month or two, you will have finished reading these three documents. Another option is to sit down with your supervisor or mentor to get some guidance about counseling. You can also visit different websites (such as this one) to learn the ropes and educate yourself.

STEP # 2: Determine Your Responsibilities

The second step in the process is to determine your responsibilities as a leader. At a minimum, you must counsel your E-4s and below once a month on a DA Form 4856. You must counsel your NCOs and officers once a quarter (every 90-days). This counseling must be in writing.

STEP # 3: Create Counseling Packets or Files

The next thing you need to do is to create a counseling packet for everyone you supervise. You can use a file folder or whatever filing system works for you. This is where you store the counseling forms in one place. It’s also a good place to store the person’s previous evaluation reports, any personal information, awards, notes, etc. Make sure this packet is placed in a secure location so it doesn’t come up missing.

STEP # 4: Prepare for the Counseling

In this step you must prepare for the counseling session. This is the most time consuming step in the process. Put some thought into the counseling. Do your homework and research ahead of time. Spend a few hours getting organized and prepared. This will save you lots of time during the actual counseling session. Make sure you collect all the facts and pertinent information.

STEP # 5: Conduct the Counseling

The next step is to conduct the counseling. If you have prepared properly, this should be easy to do. The most common types of counseling are initial, quarterly and performance based counseling. When you do the counseling, sit down with the person in private (unless you need a witness) and conduct the counseling face-to-face. Tell them why they are meeting with you and what you want to talk about. Create a simple agenda to follow, and try to keep the counseling session to no more than 30-minutes. 

STEP # 6: Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

This is what separates good leaders from great leaders. Follow-up is the most important part of the counseling process. This is where you provide verbal feedback with the Soldier informing them of their performance AFTER the counseling session. You also need to ensure they are the following the action plan you outlined for them during the counseling session. Try to provide feedback regularly, so there are no surprises during your next counseling session. When possible, put your feedback in writing too.

I’d like to close out this section by telling you that counseling is the most important part of your job. Even if your boss does not sit down and counsel you properly, you still have the responsibility to counsel and develop your subordinates. You must “make the time” in your busy schedule to get this done. By doing so, you will improve morale in your unit, your followers will respect you more, and the overall performance in your unit will improve.

Top 10 Army Counseling Tips

In this section, I want to share my top 10 Army Counseling Tips. As an Army leader, counseling your subordinates (in writing) is one of the most important aspects of your job. Unfortunately, it’s often an area that gets neglected. Most Army leaders understand the importance of counseling, yet few leaders do it.

Most leaders don’t make the time to do it, because counseling takes time and competes with their other duties. I get it. You have a lot on your plate, but developing and mentoring your subordinates MUST be one of your biggest priorities. The best way to do that is with formal, written counseling. Here are some simple success tips.

Tip # 1: Develop a Game Plan & Schedule to Follow

Your first step is to develop a game-plan and schedule to follow. You should use some kind of tracking sheet. Add your subordinates to the counseling tracking sheet.  Determine when you must do the initial counseling and follow up counseling for each Soldier you supervise. Set the dates in your calendar or day planner. Schedule the time to get it done. Make it a top priority or it will never get done.

Tip # 2: Always Meet Face-to-Face in Private

Whenever possible, you should meet with your Soldiers face-to-face. You want to look them in the eyes when you talk with them.  You want to avoid distractions and interruptions. Turn off your cell phone and computer and go somewhere private. Never do a counseling over the phone or via email (unless you have no other option).

Tip # 3: Conduct the Verbal Counseling First & Then Write it Up

I’ve found that it’s easiest to do the verbal counseling first and then do the formal, written counseling. Let the Soldier know what you are thinking and tell them that you will go back to your office and get everything typed up onto a DA Form 4856 for them to sign. This lets you address the issue immediately when you talk to them, and it gives you time to think through the problem and then type everything up. It also gives you time to collect any facts or information you might need concerning the issue. I firmly believe that EVERY time you do a verbal counseling, you should also put it in writing.

Tip # 4: Learn the Other Person’s Side of the Story

When you do a counseling, you don’t want to be the only person talking. Get good at asking questions and listening. Find out what the other person knows or is thinking about. This gives you an additional perspective and lets your Soldier know that you care about what they think. Even if you don’t want to know their side, make sure you aren’t the one doing all the talking.

Tip # 5: Focus on the Facts, Not Your Emotions or Opinions

The best counseling sessions (especially negative counseling sessions) focus on the facts, not opinions. Be specific and objective when you do a counseling with a Soldier. Summarize the facts and events, reference regulations if necessary, and try to keep your opinion to a minimum.

Tip # 6: If You Do a Negative Counseling, Have a Witness

Whenever you conduct a negative counseling session with someone, bring in a witness, preferably your boss or a trusted peer. This keeps you from getting any false accusations against you. This sounds like common sense, but many military leaders forget to do it.

Tip # 7: The Sooner the Better

The sooner you can conduct a counseling session the better. The longer you delay it, the less effect it will have on a Soldier. For instance, if a new Soldier arrives to your section starting today, get their counseling done on the first or second day. This creates a good first impression and lets the Soldier know you have your act together. When you do a negative counseling, do it on the same day the incident happened.  If you wait a week or two, it won’t be very effective.

Tip # 8: Always Follow Up with the Soldier Afterwards

One of the most important parts of counseling is the follow up. As a leader, you should follow up with your Soldier after the counseling session to make sure they are working through the plan of action. Make sure they are making progress and fixing things. Ensure you are available to answer the Soldier’s questions. Be accessible.

Tip # 9: Never Put Anything in Writing You Will Regret

When you are writing a counseling statement, never put anything in writing that you will regret. If you are emotional or angry, wait a few minutes until you cool down.  Make sure your counseling statement is objective, and isn’t a personal attack on the person. Have your boss or a trusted peer review the counseling ahead of time to make sure your counseling statement is accurate and to the point. The last thing you want to do is get yourself in trouble because you wrote something you shouldn’t have.

Tip # 10: Don’t Worry About Perfection

My last Army Counseling tip is “don’t worry about perfection.” Your counseling statement can be hand written. It doesn’t have to be typed up or look fancy. As long as it is accurate and objective, don’t fret. If you are worried about making everything perfect, there’s a good chance you will NEVER finish the counseling statement. The mere fact that you are conducting the counseling is what matters most.

army counseling

The DA Form 4856 Magic Bullet Statement

What is the DA Form 4856 Magic Bullet Statement? Simply put, it is a “legal statement” you include on the official Army Counseling Form when you counsel a subordinate.  This statement is typically used for “negative” event-oriented counseling. Example events might include insubordination, driving under the influence, failure to report, public intoxication, or something similar.

The purpose of the Magic Bullet Statement is to (1) let your Soldier know that you are serious and you mean business and (2) let your Soldier know what will/could happen if this type of negative behavior continues.

From my personal experience in the military I can tell you that the DA Form 4856 Magic Bullet Statement works wonders. When you include it on the negative counseling statement, you really get the Soldier’s attention. In most cases, it helps correct the poor behavior immediately. After all, who wants to be kicked out of the military? Who wants an Article 15 or Court-Martial?

On the other hand, if your counseling does not correct or fix the Soldier’s performance, your written counseling makes recommending UCMJ or Administrative Actions much easier. Putting things in writing, combined with the Magic Bullet Statement, creates a paper trail that covers ass when you make recommendations to your chain of command. When you can show your commander two, three, four or five negative counseling statements for someone, they will listen to you!

If you supervise Soldiers, I HIGHLY recommend you include the DA 4856 Magic Bullet Statement on every “negative” counseling you do. Here are two basic versions of the Magic Bullet Statement:

Example # 1

“I am counseling you for the conduct noted above. Be advised that continued conduct of this nature may result in initiation of a bar to reenlistment, administrative action to include your separation from the service, and/or punitive action (i.e. UCMJ action). If this conduct continues, action may be initiated to involuntarily separate you from the service under AR 635-200, Chapter 5, 11, 13 or 14. If you are involuntarily separated, you could receive an Honorable, General Under Honorable Conditions, Other Than Honorable, or Uncharacteristic Discharge. An Honorable Discharge may be awarded under Chapter 5, 13 and 14. An Uncharacteristic Discharge may be awarded under Chapter 11. A General Under Honorable Conditions Discharge may be awarded under Chapter 5, 13 and 14. An Other Than Honorable Discharge may be awarded under Chapter 14. If you receive an Honorable Discharge, you will be qualified for most benefits resulting from your military service. If you receive a General Under Honorable Conditions Discharge or an Uncharacteristic Discharge, you will be disqualified from reenlisting in to the service for some period (i.e. at least two years) and you will be ineligible for many veterans benefits to include but not limited to the Montgomery G.I. Bill. If you receive Other Than Honorable Discharge, you will be ineligible for most, if not all, veteran’s benefits to include but not limited to the Montgomery G.I. Bill and you will be precluded from reenlisting in the service. If a General Under Honorable Conditions, Other Than Honorable, or Uncharacteristic Discharge is given, you may face difficulty in obtaining civilian employment as employers have a low regard for less than Honorable Discharges. Although agencies exist to which you may apply to upgrade a less than Honorable Discharge, it is unlikely that such application will be successful.”

Example # 2

“Pursuant to 1-16, AR 635-200, this constitutes a formal counseling session concerning your noted deficiencies. You will be given a reasonable period of time to correct these deficiencies and to rehabilitate yourself into a productive satisfactory Soldier. Your conduct will be monitored during this time and you will be given an opportunity to prove yourself. If your performance and conduct continues to be unsatisfactory, you could be processed for separation under Chapter 5-13 or 5-17 AR 635-200. You could also be chapter under Chapter 9, 13, or 14. If you are processed for separation under Chapters 9 or 13 you could receive a general discharge and if processed under Chapter 14, Section III, you may receive up to an Other Than Honorable Discharge. Regardless of the type of discharge that you may receive it may have serious consequences effecting civilian, veteran’s benefits, or future service.”

Source for DA Form 4856 Magic Bullet Statement – Visit this website to get different versions of the Magic Bullet Statement

If you need additional DA Form 4856 Magic Bullet Statements you can do a search on the Internet or visit your local JAG Office. Also, some commands have their own version, so talk with your S1 or Company Commander to find out what they recommend.


In conclusion, the DA Form 4856 is a powerful tool for small unit leaders to conduct Army Counseling. Educate yourself on this form, be proactive with the people you supervise, and you shouldn’t have many problems. If you do, you can leverage the DA Form 4856 to fix and address those issues as needed.

What are your thoughts about Army Counseling? Have you used DA Form 4856 before? If so, leave a comment below to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.

Recommended Resources to Help You with Your Army Counseling

These two books will help you do a better job with your Army Counseling. You can order them on Amazon through my link:

the mentor book

This is the GO TO resources for Army Counseling. The Mentor, by CSM (ret) Mark Gerecht is a great book designed to help you with your leadership counseling. Mark is a friend of mine. This book is the real deal. Order it on Amazon.

military writing book

Written by Colonel (ret) Jo Rusin, this is a helpful resource for Army leaders. It will teach you the ins and outs of memorandums, evaluations, award recommendations, briefings, thank you notes, and much more. It includes words to use, lead in phrases, examples, tools, and references. Order it on Amazon.

Suggested Reading
  1. Military Career Tips
  2. The Officer NCO Relationship
  3. How to Fast Track Your Military Career
  4. How to Network in the Military
  5. How to Motivate Your Soldiers
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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19 thoughts on “DA Form 4856: Army Counseling Tips”

  1. If a soldier is single and does a family care plan to where their parents will have the child even though father is present who will get the child?

  2. This is really a great post Chuck. The DA 4856 should be your best friend. It allows you to do your job properly and fix issues when they arise. Knowing how to write a good DA 4856 is a very important skill to have. All leaders should take some time to educate themselves about how it works and what the form can be used for.

  3. Writing counseling statements takes a lot of time, but it is an important part of a leader’s job. You owe it to your people to formally counsel them when they do things right and/or wrong. Take the time and learn how to use the DA Form 4856 properly. If you know what you are doing, educate your peers and subordinates so they know how to use one too.

    1. Share your knowledge with others. It’s one of the best things you can do. If you don’t know what you are doing, find the smartest person in your unit (when it comes to counseling) and pick their brain. It will be time well spent.

  4. This is great advice for small unit leaders. I’ve always thought it’s a shame that people sometimes have negative opinions of counseling. Sometimes people see the need for counseling as a sign of weakness, but it’s far better to get the help you need than to struggle on alone and then suffer more serious consequences.

    1. Good points, Andrew. Counseling is not bad. If your boss is sitting down with you telling you what you are doing wrong, consider yourself lucky. At least you know where you stand. And at least you get a chance to correct your behavior/performance.

      If you have people working for you, you need to make the time for counseling. It is one of, if not the most important aspect of your job.

  5. These are some great counseling tips for Army leaders, Chuck.

    I never realized that putting everything in writing was so important. I figured that even a verbal counseling was good enough.

    I haven’t joined the Army yet, but I’ve had a variety of jobs in my life. And I’ve never received any type of counseling or job expectations in writing before. I can see the merits of doing it though.


    1. Good counseling is always in writing Alma. It creates a paper trail and shows the person you are serious. When you do counseling verbally, it’s simply a matter of your word vs. their word if something goes wrong.


  6. I’m a Captain in the Army Reserves and during my eight years as an Army Officer, not once have I received an initial counseling or any type of follow-up counseling in writing. From what I’ve seen, this is probably the norm in the military, at least in our unit.


    1. Janet,

      Unfortunately, what you described is the norm in most units. I’m hoping to change all that by educating other people about the importance of counseling.


  7. I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t put everything in writing it normally comes back to bite you in the butt. My suggestion is to document everything. If you do a verbal counseling with a Solider, take an extra 10 minutes and type it up and have the Soldier sign it. Verbal counselings just aren’t anywhere near as effective as the written ones. When you create a paper trail, you have more leverage if you need to use it.


  8. I appreciate your focus on counseling for both good and bad events. Too often leaders forget to highlight the good that their soldiers do and the counseling becomes a dreaded event. This can backfire on the leader and hurt morale in the long term. Plus having those good counseling statements on hand makes writing awards easier as well.

    1. I’ve always believed that if you only focus on the bad, you will keep getting bad. Most Soldiers do 99 things right for every thing they do wrong. If you never address or praise the good behavior, and only address the bad behavior, you won’t get anywhere near the results that you couldf as a leader.

  9. Feedback, feedback, feedback. The saying in civilian HR is that an employee should never be surprised by being fired. Consistent counseling seems like a lot of work, and done properly yes, it does involve some effort. However, it provides a record that should simplify the process of writing an NCOER or filling out a leader’s evaluation for promotion points. It provides a paper trail to take successively stronger measures against problem soldiers and the backup when you want to recommend a soldier for a special benefit. Besides, if the chain of command is used properly, no one should ever have more than 3-4 soldiers to counsel. As a first sergeant I counsel my three platoon sergeants. My platoon sergeants counsel their squad leaders (3-4). Squad leaders counsel their two team leaders. Team leaders counsel their three (max) soldiers.

    1. I’ve found that “five” is the magic number. In just about every Army organization, leaders have no more than five people report directly to them. I personally think that’s all anyone can handle, and still get their job done.

  10. I’m not in the military, but I can tell you that these counseling tips apply to any supervisor out there. Sitting down with your people face-to-face, telling them what you expect of them, and putting everything in writing is very important. It helps you “get started” on the right foot and build a professional working relationship with your subordinates.

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.


    1. I’m glad to hear that my counseling tips helped you out Calvin. All supervisors, in every profession, need to sit down face to face with their subordinates and do counseling with them. It’s part of being a leader. Best of all, it’s easy to do. The small amount of time you spend counseling your subordinates will pay huge dividends for you as the supervisor, for the person being counseled, and the company.


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