Psychodynamic confidants in fiction – Deanna Troi – Star Trek

I realise that this is a bit of a side-issue, but a few people express surprise that my role exists, and so I thought it might be amusing to point out that it is far more widespread than you might imagine. The problem, of course, is that people like myself work ‘behind the scenes’, and so are rarely noted in public. Not so, our fictional counterparts. In fiction, reality and fantasy can get blurred, and often the confidant is embued with qualities that can only be explained by drawing on the supernatural. To some people, just the word ‘supernatural’ causes fear, alarm, amusement, distrust. And yet, anyone who believes in any kind of religion or spiritual path, by definition, believes in the super-natural. So here’s the first of an occasional series on “Psychodynamic confidants in fiction”. I hope you’ll be amused…

Commander Deanna Troi was a main character in the science-fiction TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and related TV series and films, portrayed by actress Marina Sirtis.

In the programmes, Troi was half-human, half-Betazoid and had the empathic ability to sense emotions. She served as the ship’s counsellor on USS Enterprise. Throughout most of the series, she held the rank of lieutenant commander. In the seventh season, however, Troi took the bridge officer’s examination (with the help of William Riker), and is promoted to the rank of commander, but continues as counsellor.

In the character background, an older sister, Kestra, drowned during Deanna’s infancy. Although Deanna Troi has little exposure to planet Earth culture, she attended Starfleet Academy from 2355 to 2359, as well as the University on Betazed, and earned an advanced degree in psychology.

In depicting a possible phenomenon of galactic travel, the series created several alien races including the Betazoid race that had telepathic abilities. Due to a half-human heritage, Deanna Troi had partial telepathic abilities and is an extra-sensory empath with clairsentience. As viewed in Star Trek: Nemesis, Troi had the ability to connect to another psychic and follow that empathic bond to its source. In this instance, her ability enabled Enterprise-E to target and hit the Romulan vessel Scimitar, despite the fact that it was cloaked. She was telepathic with her mother and other telepathic Betazoids. There are several species who are portrayed as being resistant to the telepathy/empathy of Deanna and other Betazoids, such as the Ferengi, the Breen and the Ulians.

A counsellor was a position aboard Starfleet vessels and installations, usually held by a senior Starfleet officer with a training in psychology. Qualified psychiatrists served aboard starships during the 23rd century and, occasionally, the role of chief medical officer and counsellor were combined with medical officers also having expertise in space psychology; an example of this being the popular, Dr Leonard McCoy (who appeared in the programme for 27 years).

By the mid-24th century, starship and starbase crews included a counselor, who was responsible for the mental well-being of the crew and civilian staff. The position was considered vital enough that it warranted inclusion in the senior staff of the Federation flagship; in which case, the ship’s counsellor also had a diplomatic role, advising the captain in first contact and other situations – bringing them closer to the traditional role of the leaders’ confidant.

In an early draft of The Next Generation: “Relics”, Counsellor Troi explained that the responsibility of a ship’s counselor was to take care of the emotional well-being of a ship’s crew and guests. Starfleet began assigning counselors to starships in the 2330s, after they realized that the pressures of extended space travel could result in psychological problems that would require professional care.

The series “Deep Space 9” had several counsellors during its time in operation, including Telnorri and Ezri Dax, who was previously an assistant counselor on the USS Destiny. The USS Voyager was not originally assigned a counselor, as its mission was intended only to last a few weeks. Later, Neelix appointed himself morale officer, a position of his own invention, to take on the responsibilities of a counsellor. Benbasset was a counsellor assigned to Starbase 235 in 2375. Jenzo was a counsellor in 2376 and a friend of Deanna Troi.

NB: Any resemblance between the characters represented inthis posting and real-life is entirely coincidental!

Best wishes

PS My Business Book of the Week is “What the Dog Saw” by Malcolm Gladwell (14/08/10)

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