ASR Counselor's FAQ

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WHY PLAY A STARFLEET COUNSELOR?

Many writers in alt.starfleet.rpg are reluctant to play a Counselor character. This is a pity, since the billet is undoubtedly the most interesting and flexible position available aboard a ship or starbase.

In the hands of an imaginative and capable writer, the Starfleet Counselor has the most freedom to affect the story in almost any way imaginable - Counselors are not bound to a Helm Station or an Engineering Console; nor are they endlessly huddled in Marine Dropships waiting to deploy. A Counselor can easily and legitimately go almost anywhere at any time.

This document has been prepared to inform those players who may be thinking of fielding a Counselor, and to assist current Counselors in enhancing enjoyment of the characters they play.

This information is not canon. Each unit in alt.starfleet.rpg (ASR) has its own unique concept of how the stories in that universe unfold. The following material is intended merely as a springboard for your own ideas on the best and most enjoyable ways to write a successful counselor character in ASR.

The rest of the document has been divided into three sections: examination of the role of the Counselor; practical suggestions for involving the Counselor in the plot; and a brief look at some of the elements of a formal Counseling session.


WHAT IS A COUNSELOR?

The following are some of the most important functions that Counselors provide aboard the vessels and bases of the Federation:


SENIOR OFFICER CERTIFICATION

Starfleet has a rigorous program in place to make sure that only the ablest and most trustworthy individuals are billeted as Senior Officers aboard stations and starships. The Chief Medical Officer and Counselor have the specific duty to monitor all officers' fitness for duty, which also includes the power and obligation to relieve any senior officer of duty if he or she becomes unfit.

Because of this power, the Counselor, like the Chief Medical Officer, may not be a part of the Chain of Command of any unit. A place in the CoC creates an immediate conflict of interest, or a legitimate suspicion of one. (n.b., Counselor Troi of TNG did take her Senior Officer Bridge Test (SrBrOT) in order to serve watch duty, but she was never a part of the CoC of the ENTERPRISE).

READINESS EVALUATION

As a critical member of the Senior Staff, the StarFleet Counselor has ongoing responsibility to evaluate all departments and divisions of the ship in accordance with established StarFleet standards of readiness. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: monitoring staffing levels; reviewing duty rosters; conducting official operational readiness inspections; overseeing required technical and career training and education development plans for all StarFleet personnel - officer, enlisted, and civilian.

FIRST CONTACT

The Counselor is the leading specialist in all First Contact situations. First Contact is defined as the initial encounter between alien races. Counselors receive considerable training in the history and most current techniques of successful first contact planning and execution. It is always hoped that First Contact may be resolved peacefully, but the Starfleet Counselor must also be trained to recognize irretrievably hostile situations and recommend Defensive action to the Captain at a moment's notice.

DIPLOMACY

Counselors are the primary points of contact in Starfleet's dealings with allied governments, as well as with individual autonomous entities both within and without the Federation. They often give briefings on Alien cultures, and are a critical part of any Survey Team when a planet is either inhabited or potentially habitable.

SOCIO-TECHNOLOGICAL APPRAISAL

Counselors are directly involved with Science Officers in the evaluation of Alien technologies and their potential impact upon the Federation.

OTHER DUTIES

Counselors may, and often do, perform roles associated with a number of professions that no longer commonly exist in the twenty-fifth century. This may include duties associated with the following:

  • Therapist/Psychiatrist
  • Lawyer
  • Inspector General
  • Public Relations
  • Social Worker
  • Patent Attorney
  • Teacher/Trainer
  • Human Resource Specialist / Personnel Manager
  • Labor Negotiator
  • Intelligence Officer
  • Motivational Speaker
  • Morale and Recreation Officer
  • Civil Assistance / Humanitarian Relief / Red Cross / Red Crescent Worker

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A COUNSELOR

Current Starfleet regulations require the equivalent of advanced graduate work in any of several allied fields, including but not limited to medicine (psychiatry), psychology (counseling), social work, and so on. Many counselors also have additional training in sociology, anthropology, archaeology, operations management, and other disciplines. If, as a new player, you have any questions about whether or not your current character meets these requirements, your holodeck instructor can guide you. Experienced players putting together an additional PC can contact the Unit Commanding Officer, the CSFO, or the Head of StarFleet Medical (which includes the Director of StarFleet Counseling.)

Remember that we are writing about fictional characters; it is very easy to send your character to medical school! (All you have to do is write in the biofile "Lieutenant X then attended Medical School." Don't you wish real life were this easy?)


HOW DOES THE COUNSELOR FIT INTO THE STORY?

As can be seen from the brief listing of roles and responsibilities above, the Starfleet Counselor has the most wide-ranging and flexible job duties of any member of the Senior Staff. In terms of contributing to an ongoing ASR story, this means that the alert writer can legitimately place the Counselor character in almost any part of the plot.

Although the Counselor's primary position is to be near the Captain to offer advice, Mission requirements will often dictate his or her presence on Away Teams.

Similarly, at any time during the shipboard duty day, Counselors may be found in any area of the ship, visiting among the crew. This may be informal visits, or scheduled inspections or training.

This gives the player great freedom in going wherever the plot needs a little extra help. Many Captains and First Officers rely on their Counselor players to serve as a wide-ranging troubleshooter, and dispatch them to areas of the story that need an extra boost. In many ways, the Counselor is similar to an old fashioned "Minister without Portfolio"- a problem-solving generalist.

With an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the Starfleet Counselor, the player will have more opportunities to intelligently insert his or her character into any section of the storyline. Here are a few examples:

Rescue Mission to a Crippled Ship?

The Counselor goes along to help care for any possible survivors.

Surprise Attack on your Vessel?

The Counselor was in the damaged compartments right before the attack, conducting crew evaluations, or hastens to console the wounded.

First Contact?

This is the Counselor's Specialty!

Refugee Evacuation?

The Counselor is needed to prepare lists and manifests, answer questions, arrange relief supplies. Assessing the emotional trauma and needs of refugees is also the Counselor's concern.

Murder Investigation?

Counselor is present to take statements, advise people of their rights, act as defense attorney, etc.

Casualty due to attack or loss of writer?

Grief counseling will be critical to maintain peak performance of survivors.

New CO, XO?

Promotion of unit characters? Adjusting to new team configurations and new responsibilities isn't always easy!

You can see that with imagination and a little thought (hallmarks of the good ASR writer) a Counselor can be the most exciting and useful character in the crew.


WHAT ABOUT FORMAL COUNSELING SESSIONS?

In correspondence with Counselors throughout ASR, the two most common questions are "How can I write a Counselor character without using the old 'you need to report for yearly examination' trick?" and "How can I make Counseling Sessions more realistic, emotionally rich, and character-driven?" Section III of this document (above) hopefully offers some suggestions for the first question.

As for the second, this information from a military seminar on Counseling and Writing Effective Performance Evaluations offers insights on how the real military handles these issues (see (*)):

The Purpose of Counseling

"There are really only two major purposes for counseling: (1) to exact a change in behavior, and (2) to promote adjustment or mental health."

It is important for novice counselors to note that the first type of counseling-- job based performance feedback-- is just as vital as the second, more theatrical, "feelings based" type of counseling. In fact, it often offers richer role-play potential, and should not be overlooked as a source of ideas and material.

Counseling Defined

"We can define counseling as: (1) a process. (2) involving a helping relationship, and (3) directed toward improvement or change in subordinate behavior."

Neglecting any one of these three aspects of counseling in Star Trek RP writing makes the post seem less realistic. Giving careful attention to all three characteristics of counseling will naturally help balance your posts and make them more authentic.

Counseling as a Process

"Your purpose is to establish rapport, get to the bottom of the situation, and exact a change that will benefit everyone concerned. Counseling may be viewed as a three-stage process or cycle of helping."

In the first phase, "Self Exploration", the Counselor allows "the counselee to explore the problem in depth. You need to use listening skills, proper responses, and effective questioning techniques, along with empathy, respect, [and] warmth," and sincerity to develop healthy counseling relationships. Don't try to 'force the issue', let the counselee set the comfort level. A direct attack doesn't work in most counseling sessions - objectivity is the key to establishing and maintaining rapport, a vital ingredient in self-exploration."

The second phase is "Self Understanding." According to the book, once the foundation for the counseling session has been set, you need to "assist the counselee in making some sense out of the many pieces of the puzzle. Although the counselees think about their problems a great deal, they frequently are unable to change their behavior. A counselee may recognize that nightly visits to the club interfere with job performance, and yet persist in this behavior. What's missing is the counselee's commitment to change. Therefore, in this phase, the counselee must not only understand the problem in depth, but make a commitment to follow through with a plan or program designed to correct the inappropriate behavior."

The above quote is obviously geared more toward professional development/job performance issues. This may not be quite the approach to take with an individual facing memories of childhood abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder. These traumas may take longer to be dealt with in therapy, but the principles of honesty, empathy, and recognition still apply -- merely on a longer scale.

The final phase "Counselee Action", may be the most difficult.

"You and the counselee must devise a plan that the counselee can follow in resolving his or her problems. Here you and the counselee consider alternatives and the possible consequences of the various plans before selecting one. The emphasis is on outcomes and achievement of attainable goals."

The Helping Relationship

"The second part of counseling, the helping relationship, refers to interactions in which you, as the counselor, make a determined effort to contribute in a positive way to the counselee's improvement. In counseling, you establish a helping relationship by drawing upon practices that help counselees live more in harmony with themselves and others, and with greater understanding of themselves. The relationship develops because counselees need assistance, instruction, and understanding."

The counselee often has a hard time relating to others because of his or her emotional difficulties and the resulting behavioral problems. The Counselor can do much to build trust by accepting the counselee as an individual and by acknowledging his or her point of view. The counselee may not necessarily be an easy person to get to know, but the Counselor can and does try to look beyond the offending behavior to see what's causing it.

Improvement or Change in Subordinate Behavior

"The third part of counseling, improvement or change in counselee behavior, characterizes the goal of counseling. Counseling can be considered successful when some kind of change or improvement occurs in a counselee's observable behavior. It is not enough, after counseling, for a counselee merely to speak of renewed confidence in dealing with, for example, peer relations. Such a comment does not assure you that the counseling was successful. However, if the counselee shows more consideration and is less quarrelsome in the workcenter, then you have observable evidence that the behavior has changed or improved. Or, consider a counselee who could not perform satisfactorily on quality assurance evaluations because of a high anxiety level. Evidence that behavior had improved after counseling intervention would be a report that the counselee passed several evaluations without experiencing anxiety. While you can't say with certainty that the change was the result of counseling, your intervention most likely contributed to the improved performance."

(*) Indented paragraphs have been taken from the United States Air Force "Promotion Fitness Examination Study Guide", 1999 Edition. Items in quotation marks are direct quotations from the chapter on counseling, which begins on page 173 of that book. This window into the way that a US military branch conducts counseling gives helpful and valid clues about how a naval officer in the UFP might be trained.

There are other times when Counselors may benefit from counseling skills taught to spiritual directors or ministers. Among the most important to remember:

It is most often a mistake to think you know how anyone else feels, and counselors are trained to know this. Even if you think you know *exactly* how someone else feels, saying so is usually the *last* thing a person experiencing emotional trauma wants to hear (e.g., The CO's father just died. Your CNS's father died last month. Telling the CO that fact, in an attempt to build rapport, only burdens the CO with feeling grief on your Counselor's behalf as well.)

The most useful question for eliciting material with which to begin is often simply, "What happened?" or "What do you see happening?"

Once your CNS knows what happened (or what the counselee sees happening), asking questions about how the counselee responded to various aspects of the event (or situation) opens many doors.

It is often (if not always) more helpful to respond with a compassionate emotional exclamation than with a rational truth. For example - a patient tells you s/he just got dumped by a lover. You say, "Gak! Does that suck or what?", not "Probably the best thing that could have happened, in the long run."

WHAT COMES NEXT?

The information in this document, plus imagination and energy, should empower writers to field Counselor characters with plenty of latitude and a broad purview, who can stay involved in the most twisted plots ASR can throw at them. Have fun with it!

Please email any observations, corrections, or additions to this document to the ASR Senior Administration for inclusion in future versions of the ASR Counselor FAQ. If players are interested, there are more sections to the Air Force Counseling pamphlet that could be adapted for use in StarFleet, including sections on the Counseling Environment, and Counselor Attributes.


CREDITS

This document was prepared by Ted Light and Lezley McDouall. Natalie Parker, Tim Meushaw and Masako Goto also contributed to this FAQ.


VERSION HISTORY

  • Version 1.0 Initial Release 26 December 2000
  • Version 1.1 Minor Edits 01 January 2001
  • Version 1.2 FAQ Format Added 02 January 2001
  • Version 1.9.1 More Edits 30 August 2001
  • Version 1.9.9 More Edits 29 September 2001

Current Version: 1.9.9