How Star Trek: TNG could have made Counselor Troi more necessary

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Marina Sirtis speaks onstage at the Star Trek Universe panel during New York Comic Con on October 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Paramount+)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Marina Sirtis speaks onstage at the Star Trek Universe panel during New York Comic Con on October 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Paramount+) /

Counselor Troi was not used to her full potential

When Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, Counselor Troi was in a unique position as the first ship’s counselor in the franchise.  The Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Court Martial” briefly mentioned Bones was an expert in “space psychology,” yet it was not brought up again in any of the TOS episodes or movies, making Counselor Troi the first member of the crew whose job was focused on the mental health of her peers.

There is a perception among non-fans of TNG that Counselor Troi had no real role on the show since TNG did not utilize her role as counselor to showcase her training and how it could have helped improve the lives of the Enterprise-D crew by addressing their mental and emotional health.

Instead, Counselor Troi often ended up being written as a damsel in distress, conveying obvious information to the audience, and otherwise not having a great impact on the plot.  Later episodes did showcase her talents better, but she was not always seen as necessary to the series, which is very disheartening because when Counselor Troi was better utilized, she helped create better episodes that embraced the utopia the franchise was meant to embody where mental health was taken seriously and mental health services were respected.

Counselor Troi could have helped TNG be better

Although TNG was built on showcasing the utopia seen in TOS and exploring it further, parts of the series foreshadowed the darker turns the franchise would take in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager as the crew dealt with the emotional repercussions of their journey, which would have given Counselor Troi the opportunity to help her crewmates have better lives.

For example, Security Chief Tasha Yar was from a dystopian failed colony and had fled it to join Starfleet, yet her mental health was never explored in TNG.  Although the treatment plans and mental health tools used for those suffering from PTSD have changed from when TNG was filmed, seeing Counselor Troi and Tasha Yar working together on Yar’s mental health could have helped many who had PTSD and destigmatized mental health struggles for others.  Yar could have come to Troi and explained how something unexpected made her uncomfortable then Troi could have explained how unexpected triggers are, how they can be smells, noises, tastes, or anything else.  Even the terrible episode “Code of Honor” had an avenue for this as Troi comments Yar is flattered by the attention paid to her even when it is negative then the two could have explored why Yar felt this way.

Even after Yar’s character was written off the show, Lieutenant Data and his quest to understand humanity could have been a perfect avenue for Counselor Troi to use her training to help the audience to explore humanity.  Data often struggled to connect with his fellow crew members because he did not always understand the emotional part of their decisions.  Counselor Troi could have used various techniques from psychiatrists and psychologists to explore why similar events impacted crew members in different ways.  The audience could also have learned from this as they might be able to understand similar real life examples of this.  This was briefly explored in the episode “Hero Worship” where a young boy, Timothy, tries to emulate Data following the death of his parents.  Data has spent years trying to understand human emotions yet Timothy wants to not feel those.  Counselor Troi explains to Data that by doing this Timothy is trying to process his grief over the loss of his parents.  Timothy and Data learn from each other during the episode as Data gets to see his actions from a human perspective and vice versa.

Counselor Troi could have opened the way for better understandings of mental health

If Counselor Troi had been written to embrace her training and skill set, TNG could have included many important conversations about mental health and how people can help others around them have better lives.  Unfortunately, Counselor Troi did not get very many scenes that focused on her role as ship’s counselor, the very role she was supposed to have on the Enterprise-D.

Several times throughout the series Counselor Troi could have helped move the action forward by using the various techniques and tools she had access to in order to help others, but often she became a damsel in distress or sometimes didn’t even appear in an episode.

If the writers had used Counselor Troi in her intended role to explore trauma with Tasha Yar or explore humanity with Data, TNG would have had the chance to deal with important topics that were not explored in TOS and set up some of the serious topics that DS9 or Voyager explored in their runs.

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