Truth OR Myth? Ship’s Counselor, The Unnecessary Necessity

Hello and Welcome to Truth OR Myth. In today’s episode, we take a look at ships counsellors, their duties and position and ask ourselves, does this make sense?

With the advent of the Galaxy Class of Starships, Starfleet Command made the decision to add a new position to the Starship’s roster, that of ships counsellor…

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1986 one of the biggest differences between it and Star Trek The Original Series was the addition of a ship’s counsellor, the unnecessary necessity.

In the mid-1980’s it was a general feeling, after overcompensating, that ALL problems could be solved with Psychiatrists, so to Gene Roddenberry, adding one the ship made sense, and maybe in the grand scheme of starship exploration it does, I mean think about it.

Space exploration is a dangerous job, unexpected deaths and injuries happen all the time. So having an outlet to deal with those things would be a natural progression for those at Starfleet Command worried about crew members mental health and welfare.

Not only that, but the Galaxy Class had a new innovation not seen on Federation Starships before, the addition of civilians and family. These people weren’t trained to deal with the rigours of daily starship life, so having a counsellor there to assist them in dealing with any issues that might arise would absolutely make sense.

What doesn’t make sense though, is having a counsellor as a position on the bridge. And in fact, no other Trek series would give us one. Yes I know people could say Ezri Dax was a counsellor AND she was on the bridge numerous times, however, when she was there it was never in the position of ships counsellor, she was usually at another station performing other duties. And having a counsellor on Deep Space 9, a starbase, during the Dominion War is not only logical but acceptable.

So why did Starfleet Command decide to give the counsellor a seat on the bridge? Shouldn’t she have been touring the ship, seeing to the mental health of the crew? Not only that, but instead of being happy with her position, Counselor Troi, decides to become a commander so she could command the ship on occasions. What? Does that really make sense?

Marina Sirtis is an excellent actor, and she really played the part well, but in this series, we look at In-Universe situations and events and analyze them compared to our reality. In Deep Space Nine we get the impression that command is a career path. Worf, after all, has to switch from Security to Command, and Sisko comments on that at multiple times.

Troi also MUST take a Commander’s test to command the ship. I can also accept that! I tend to believe that Starfleet Officers in the fields of Science, Operations, Engineering, Helm, Navigation etc would have to have some command training. Not everyone wants to be or has the skills to be a Captain. But if a situation arose where the command crew was killed, someone would need to be able to take command, so all that makes sense.

In fact, it looks as though even the counsellor herself had command training since in the Episode, “Encounter At Farpoint, and “All Good Things” she seems to be in charge of the ship at times. Yes I know, after the pilot Troi’s role was scaled back and by the fifth season episode, “Disaster,” she had completely forgotten EVERYTHING about command, but since the Pilot was aired it is canon so I can say she MUST have also had some type of command training somewhere down the line.

The problem with the Troi Character was the ways in which they chose to use her. I mean basically, her scenes can be summed up like this. The Enterprise is flying through Space, gets hit with a barrage of torpedoes and she turns to the Captain and says, I sense they’re not friendly. Isn’t Picard a Captain? A Captain of the Federation’s Flagship none the less? Shouldn’t he know that a weapons barrage doesn’t equal friendly?

It seems as though the character was actually undermining the Captain at every turn. Offering her interpretation of events and regulations as she sees them. What happened to the Captain of a Starship having to have the confidence of the crew after all?

If you watch the Episode, “Best of Both Worlds Part One,” After Picard is kidnapped by the Borg, Riker decides he’s going to lead an away team to get him back. Troi automatically tells him that would be inappropriate right in front of the crew and he backs down.

For all intents and purposes, he’s the Captain of the ship, and we’ve seen from other episodes that the Captain can basically, within reason, do what he wants, Captain’s Prerogative for example. And although she might be right morally, to call him out on that, in a critical situation, it is undermining and unnecessary. That was a conversation she could have with him in the ready room while the landing party prepares to beam over. Who’s actually in command there?

Look at a character like Dr Crusher. She has already taken the commanders test and has the ability to command the ship. And during the events of Decent shows herself to be a very capable and able-bodied Captain. At no point do you look at her and say, “why is she in command, she’s a doctor,” After all a semi-reasonable explanation is given anyhow. And when Troi is trying to decide whether she wants to be a commander, she goes to Beverly for advice. And Beverly explains that sometimes she commands the night shift basically to keep her skills brushed up in that department.

But you don’t see her on the bridge questioning the Captain’s judgment on orders that he gives. In fact, the doctor spends a lot less time on the bridge then McCoy had in the Original Series. She’s only there when her duties require her to be or she has nothing better do.

Troi, on the other hand, is constantly there, what about her other duties? Or are we to believe that a ship’s counsellor is a more important position then chief medical officer on board a starship? After all, a disease or wound can directly kill you, but can sadness directly kill you?

In fact, a lot of times when Troi is utilized outside of the role of ships counsellor, or when she’s actually acting like one in her office, we get some of the best TNG episodes, think “Face of the Enemy,” if you want to understand what I mean.

The other thing about Troi, who can tell ships, Captain, when he’s being ridiculous, that I find really bizarre is that even though she’s an officer on board the ship, but she doesn’t have to wear a Starfleet uniform. In fact, it isn’t until Captain Jellico point blank tells her to, that she starts. And I don’t for a second believe that Season 1 Picard came to her and said Counselor you can wear any damn thing you want on the bridge, shut up Wesley! So at some point, she just decided to and no one said anything.

But EVERY other position has to wear a uniform? Why? In our military positions today that’s even the case, so why didn’t she?

Also, something they missed an opportunity on is that even though Troi can tell a Captain what to do and what not to do, she doesn’t have any authority to relieve him of command. This still falls to the First Officer or CMO. Why? In fact, Doctor Pulaski in the Season 2 episode, “Time Squared,” seems to suggest that she could relieve the Captain based on mental health issues. Something backed up by McCoy in the original series. But wouldn’t the counsellor be more qualified to make that choice? Pulaski doesn’t seem to have any psychiatric training at all, because if she did, she wouldn’t have to go to Troi to seek advice about dealing with Picard when she has a problem with him.

Now think of Star Trek Voyager for a moment. The Ship itself is classified as a Deep Space Exploration Vessel, and although it doesn’t have families on board, it would be a prime place for a counsellor to have a posting. After all, the ship itself out in deep space, away from family and friends, dealing with the confining nature of a smaller ship, all those screams out Psychiatry! And if you think about the series as a whole, you can see how interesting it would have been to have one after Voyager got stranded in the delta quadrant. Perhaps have this be THAT counsellors first posting, and then having to deal with Starfleet and the Maquis crew members, as well as the fact they were all 75 years from home under constant attack from everything and everyone. That counsellor could have become the linchpin of the show, but no, no counsellor there…

Really the position on the Enterprise D of Ships Counselor was misused. I don’t mind her having a seat on the bridge when she’s required there, but having her there full time was a mistake. The position could have become something fantastic if she was always popping up around the ship where needed providing sounding boards for other characters and those characters issues. We could learn about her while learning about everyone else. They could have really shown why she was needed and cemented that position into the Starfleet roster for all time, but instead, now it’s fading into obscurity…

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