Psychology Primer: Sim Strategies for Maximising the Role of the Counselor
Sim Strategies for Maximising the Role of the Counselor
One of the knocks against serving as a counselor is the difficulty that some find in “inserting” themselves into the story line. The fact is the counselor has much more latitude for plot development and interaction than you might think.
The Trained Observer
First of all, even if not on the critical away mission being simmed by a good number of the crew, the counselor is a trained observer. If a situation is highly stressful, or PC’s and NPC’s are being simmed as irritable, or moody, or if a particular event seems to be having a demoralizing effect on the crew, BAMMO! You can take your observations to the FO or the Captain.
One of my favorite tricks isn’t exactly cheating, but it’s close to it. Lets say that you know OOC what turmoil or negative mood state a PC is in based upon their sim’s IC internal dialog. Being a trained observer it is entirely plausible that you can pick up on subtle body language and or tone of voice and use that as an opportunity to interact with that crewmember.
If you are an empath, such as a Betazoid, this is even much more plausible [but a word of caution to Betazoids, be careful how often you exercise this ability or it may “creep out” or even alienate your fellow crewmembers]. Such interjections can often lead to very intense interactions that can provide additional ways for your character to contribute to the plot line.
The Explorer & Communicator
Another plot device that you can use is for your character to pursue some of the more mysterious elements of the plot. That’s not to say you become a ghost hunter or metaphysician. However many metaphysical encounters in Star Trek are often examples of non-corporeal beings trying to communicate, or symptoms of sleep deprivation, alien psychic impositions, etc. Part of the counselor’s job is to help people with their perceptions of reality, and to make sense of otherwise senseless behavior or circumstances.
Engaging in B-Stories
Another way to stay busy is to engage in development of the B-story. At the risk of sounding a bit “inside baseball”, I have found it helpful to treat simming as a free form exercise in “screenwriting”; truly treating the sims as part of an ongoing Star Trek episode. While not everyone may have the experience that I do of actually writing screenplays, everyone can benefit from a few pointers regarding dramatic writing.
Firstly, and by and large the simmers of SB118 do seem to be fairly adept at this, story lines should be developed apart from the main plot. In a typical Star Trek episode there is a main plot, and up to two subplots encompassed by the episode which either continue an ongoing story arc from previous episodes or converge to have relevance on the overall story by the time the credits role.
"Lower Decks" and NPCs
A good deal of these B-story plot developments tend to be what’s known as “lower decks” types of stories, named for their similarity to an episode of that name on TNG. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this, the first being finding a way to interact or be useful to tertiary characters who are not part of the main action. The second way involves the creative use of NPC characters. The counselor’s role is not purely psychological, but encompasses elements of social work as well.
Let’s say that your ship has families aboard. One of the NPC’s that you could develop is that of Family Support Specialist or Administrator. The Family Support staff are those that oversee the schooling of children, provide recreational diversions for the civilian staff members and aid in humanitarian relief efforts that may arise.
ACH: Auxiliary Counseling Hologram
Another B-story plot device that I frequently make use of is what I’ve come to call the ACH or Auxiliary Counseling Hologram. The ACH basically serves as a back-up to the Ship’s Counselor and is patterned very closely after the EMH program found on most newer starships (or if you want him to be really annoying you could pattern him after Andy Dick). You can make the ACH as quirky or dull as you please, and utilize him or her to help your character make determinations about a crewmember’s psychological condition after the PC has left the office.
Additionally, it is a common practice, and a quite necessary one, for those in the helping professions to seek some therapy themselves from time to time to help them maintain their objectivity or deal with any emotional baggage or stress that their sessions bring up when working with others. An example at the end of this article follows from my own simming on board the USS Independence-A which illustrates the opportunity for character development apart from the main story-line with a creative use of the ACH.
Another creative way to develop B-story plots is to provide moments of “comic relief” or levity. The ACH is great for this, based upon the performance of Robert Picardo as a template for the ACH’s precursor, the EMH. In between life and death missions, you can interact with him on the Holodeck, allowing the ACH to almost take on a regular NPC role. Maybe your counselor likes to golf. Imagine the highjinks that can be explored between the CMO, SC and the ACH at Pebble Beach. The ACH, like the EMH and Data are Pinocchio characters; that is characters that aspire to be more human without quite getting the concept. But the ACH is much more than that. He can be borrowed by the CMO as a back up or secondary EMH, and provided with the plot device of a mobile holo-emitter take on more serious roles and responsibilities throughout the ship.
Seeking HCO status/additional duties
As your character develops in rank you can also seek HCO status. While it may be a while before you are granted actual HCO rating, you should seek out opportunities to pull bridge watch, perhaps during the third shift, at least every once in a while. Shadow tactical and security operations personnel, cross train in a variety of specialties, learn to pilot a shuttlecraft, practice your phaser skills, etc. In fact you should seek every opportunity to make yourself a more useful character in as many different ways as you can. The more practice you get and aptitude you display, the greater the chances are that your skills will be called upon outside of the counselor’s office. Not only that, the more exposure you get to various departments, the more your relationships with the other characters will be enhanced.
Example Sim with the ACH
((Deck 5, Llewelyn's Quarters)) ::Having bade goodbye to the slightly quirky Ensign Jones, Llewelyn found himself in his modest size quarters, the boxes of his belongings deposited squarely in the room. Llewelyn felt like he wanted to lay down, but given his reaction to the Trill Security Chief, he was afraid, for the first time in a long time to close his eyes; fearful that the memories of past conflicts would manifest themselves somewhere in the ethereal dreamstate- paralyzing him from conscious compartmentalization, and leaving him at the mercy of his scarred subconscious. Llewelyn was an insomniac, even in the best of times. While the nightmares had faded over the years, partly through the passage of time, but mostly due to a long series of therapy sessions, the aversion to sleep never went away. Whether this was due to a fear of what dreams might come, or a feeling that he'd lived far longer than he probably should have to this point, and thus must make the most of what time he had, he wasn't exactly sure. It was, he reasoned to himself as he sat on the edge of his comfortable but utilitarian bed, probably a combination of the two. What was a reality, however, was the fact that he usually succumbed to sleep only at the point of exhaustion. Taking a relaxing nap, or retiring early just never seemed to work. While his body achieved a resting state, his mind absolutely refused to cease its incessant and random disgorging of disjointed ideas, faces, quandaries, and the like. He felt shaken by his posttraumatic episode; shamed that it had happened in front of total strangers. He was even more irritated that those strangers would only get one opportunity to make a first impression of him, and they were ranking officers with whom he'd have to form a working relationship. He'd chosen his line of work carefully, hoping to keep at bay less desirable portions of his personality. He longed for a life of peace, of altruism, of service to others based not upon his skills as a soldier, but rather on his ability to bring peace to others through understanding and an acceptance that would facilitate an inner reconciliation with whatever foibles or demons beset them. And yet, he was deeply scarred by the less than perfect integration of the duality of his nature. The duality and duplicity of his current mission was clearly not in keeping with the best interests of his own mental health. He was the epitome of the psychological archetype of the wounded healer. After unpacking a few boxes, and a light meal, he found himself staring at his own reflection in the polished metal of his prized bat'leth, which he'd mounted on the wall behind the small desk in a nondescript alcove of his quarters. He wanted desperately to sleep now, but after a few minutes of lying down, he found sleep as elusive as ever. He knew he should report to sickbay, however, he was not "settled" as of yet, and therefore could not be faulted for disobeying orders if he chose to take a break from his housekeeping duties and stretch his legs. Taking a PADD from the table, he located his office and input the security code. The doors slid open and he entered, only to find he wasn't alone...:: ACH: Hello...I am the Auxiliary Counseling Hologram. Please take a seat... ::Llewelyn noted with amusement the holographic personage seated behind the desk in front of him. Six feet tall, slender build, balding with dark brown hair... He knew this "person"...sort of.:: Llewelyn: You're a Zimmerman model, right? ACH: That is correct. I'm a more recent upgrade, taken from the files of the EMH serving aboard the USS Voyager. Although originally designed specifically for emergency medical care, the Doctor's extended period of activation resulted in the formulation of many different skill-sets quite unique from the standard EMH program. Upon his debriefing at Jupiter station, he was found to have developed quite a thorough understanding of psychosocial dynamics and therapeutic milieu. These were in turn incorporated into my model. Won't you sit down? Llewelyn: I would, but you're sitting in my chair... ACH: Ahh, you must be Doctor Llewelyn, I presume. Very well, I suppose you will be deactivating me then. Such a pity. One of the unforeseen peculiarities of my subroutines was the emergence of a somewhat curious nature. Like the good doctor, I have been granted for the majority of my activation an autonomous locus of control over my programming. I rather enjoy...being, for lack of a better word. But now that you are here... ::The ACH moved to give up his seat, but Llewelyn had a better idea:: Llewelyn: No, you go ahead and sit there ::he said, taking a seat in the comfortable client chair:: The fact is I could use your help. ACH: Wonderful:: he said, with a smile of genuine pleasure:: How can I be of assistance? Would you like me to help you review the case files of the crew. We have some really interesting characters on board. Of course, I'm only telling you this because you have a need to know. I am programmed to be fully compliant with patient confidentiality... Llewelyn: That's what I'm counting on. I'm afraid that I'm the one who needs some perspective right now. ACH: I see..::he said, his countenance taking on a suitably professional look of interest, right down to the folding of his hands in a teepee gesture, then tapping his right index finger against his lips:: The ongoing pursuit of therapy as a means to maintain the mental health of the professional therapist is a time honored tradition, and is in fact mandated by Starfleet for all Counselors. I'm sure that you are aware of this, and yet I can't help but notice that you used the word "afraid", just now... ::Llewelyn smiled. He liked this ACH. In fact, were the chairs reversed he would have probably seized on the same Freudian slip.:: ACH: Tell me, Doctor, why you feel afraid to seek counseling? Llewelyn: Well done, my holographic colleague. They certainly programmed you with your A game... ::The ACH smiled briefly:: Courtesies aside, Counselor, you didn't answer my question. Llewelyn: Touché. Its not that I'm afraid to seek counseling. The truth is, I've just suffered a PTSD episode, and it occurred in the presence of senior staff members. ACH: I see... one moment. ::the ACH consulted the computer monitor to the right of the desk:: I see from your file that you were not always non combatant personnel status in your career. You spent much of your early life as quite the dashing military man. Very impressive... Llewelyn: Let me guess, you don't really need the computer terminal to access my file, right? Its an anthropomorphic algorithm designed to provide the client with a familiar form of human interaction; am I right? ::The ACH gave a little smile:: Correct, but you are prevaricating again. And, I can't help but notice that you changed the subject. Am I correct in observing that your discomfiture in discussing your military record prior to Starfleet also applies to your somewhat unconventional service as a commissioned officer within Starfleet? Llewelyn: ::smiling:: I like you. First of all, you are the only person I have met who uses the same sort of terminology and phrases that I do. The fact is, most people think I'm stiff and pretentious when I use them. I think you understand the importance of choosing the right words to convey one's meaning. ACH: Interesting... More prevarication. All right, lets put your feelings of insecurity and the need to seek approval in the eyes of your peers aside for a moment. For now, I'm going to cut the crap, I believe is the term, and focus on the incident that brought you here. Llewelyn:: Somewhat indignant:: I didn't come here for therapy... ACH: Didn't you? Consciously, no, you didn't. However, I note that you came aboard two hours ago. You reported to me that you experienced a PTSD episode, which must have occurred during the past two hours. I presume that you have been to your quarters. I note that you are due for a medical evaluation before the end of this watch, and yet you came here rather than there. You sought out a therapeutic environment, something familiar to help you ground your feelings, calm your nerves maybe? Or was it avoidance behavior? Did this episode occur in the presence of the Ships Chief Medical Officer? Llewelyn:: tiredly:: There is true, it did. ACH: Did it manifest itself with any physical symptomology? Llewelyn: A slight disequlibrium, and a momentary dissassociative fugue. Plus I nearly crushed the hand of the Chief of Security. She reminded me of someone... ACH: Jon'ay Bok? Llewelyn:: Startled:: How... how do you know that name? ACH:: Sounding quietly pleased with himself, and allowing it to show with a jaunty air:: If you must know, I decided that you were going to continue to be difficult, so I consulted the available logs from the various vessels you served aboard, and the events which transpired under your watch. To whit, one Jon'ay Bok, Gunnery Sergeant, Starfleet Marines, posthumously decorated for heroism above and beyond the call of duty, was credited for giving her life in the line of duty. She died in defense of you and another officer. Bok was a Trill. Our chief of security is a Trill. Both women chose career paths which are somewhat uncommon for females of any species, and yet both seem to have been more than adequately suited for their chosen duties. Not to mention the fact that :: ACH turned the computer monitor so Llewelyn could see it, and the official duty pictures of both:: by physical appearance, they could be sisters for all of the similarities. :: Llewelyn: Yes, the resemblance is striking. ACH: And entirely coincidental. The DNA patterns for each are sufficiently different to rule out such a possibility, though on some unconscious level I believe that you have a great deal of unresolved emotion surrounding the death of the Marine Gunnery Sergeant, and an emotional attachment as well. She was your friend. She made a strong impression upon you, and upon meeting our Chief of Security it is my supposition that you subconsciously identified some of those same admirable and strong qualities, which were reinforced by her physical resemblance to the woman who saved your life. It is entirely conceivable that your unresolved feelings of remorse and perhaps survivor's guilt were thus transferred, momentarily to Lt. Quay, which most likely triggered your episode and brought to light the fact that you still have some work to do with regards to this event in your life. ::Llewelyn's eyes stung, as he made his face hard as stone. When he spoke, his voice quavered:: Yes, I can see that. It was so pointless, so unnecessary. She didn't have to die... ACH: Counselor, are you a philosopher? Llewelyn: What? What do you mean? ACH: The search for meaning is not something that can be quantified by scientific data. The why's of a given situation must be taken, to a certain degree on faith. Obviously, I am incapable of faith, however I have been programmed to be able to access the philosophical constructs of all major religions and philosophies, and factor those into therapeutic interventions. I'm asking you, what do you believe about faith? Fate? You are a soldier, attempting to be something more than that, but at your core, you've been in the trenches and faced with death numerous times. Why are you still here? Llewelyn: ::Sniffs:: Wasn't my time. ACH: ::pressing:: How do you know you have a time, per se? Llewelyn: You don't question it in combat. You see your friends die. The enemy... You do what you can but you have to believe that either you are destined to survive or not. You can't worry about it. You do your job and you move on. If its your time, there's nothing you can do but hope that you went out fighting and protecting your friends. You accept that if you are going to die, you are going to do it in the way you see fit. You can't stop it, but you can make it mean something. Once you resolve that, the fear can't overwhelm you. ACH: And wouldn't a Marine have this same philosophy? Llewelyn: Yes, I'm sure that they would. ACH: So it was her time. Llewelyn: No, if the away team leader hadn't ignored her warnings... ACH: But he did, and it happened. According to your own belief system, if it happens, it happens. And it happened that way. Wasn't his time. Wasn't your time. You can believe whatever you want, fate, luck, God, destiny, you name the external locus of control that best suits you, but whatever you attribute it to she was meant to die so that you might live. But then, where is her will in that? She CHOSE to die, Counselor. She counted the cost and gave her all so that both the officer who may have contributed to the circumstances surrounding her death, and her friend might live.::the ACH paused, and sat back in his chair, his face assuming a look of compassion as he gently continued:: Now, you can believe that it was some external force that put her there because you were meant to do something, or your purpose in this life wasn't fulfilled yet. Or you can believe that she gave her life in the hopes that you would live long enough to be able to try to make your life whatever you wanted it to be, and fate be damned. Or she did it just because it was the right thing to do according to her beliefs. Either way, it wasn't an accident, and it wasn't something that you owe a debt for. It was a gift. Llewelyn::whispering in Welsh:: Na 'n fwy cara has unrhyw ddyn na a chreiniai eiddo buchedd achos eiddo brodyr... ACH::looking perplexed:: My universal translator must be malfunctioning. Llewelyn: Its Cymraeg, Old Welsh. It means "no greater love has any man than he lay down his life for his brother…” ACH: The age-old soldier's prayer... that's right. And a gift, given in love, bears no guilt on the part of the receiver. Only gratitude. Llewelyn::Wiping his eyes:: You're right...::quietly:: you are right. If the situation were reversed I would have gladly given my life so that she could have the opportunity to live hers and fulfill whatever purpose Duw had for her life...::He shook his head:: I can't change the fact she died. But the fact is that she was meant to die so that I could live, or else I wouldn't be here. I think this episode was my subconscious' way of telling me that its time to let the guilt go, so I can get on with the business of getting on with it; whatever it may be... ACH: I think you're right, based upon a supposition that the Freudian/ psychoanalytic perspective is the valid one for this particular case. ::Offers Llewelyn a tissue:: Llewelyn: Well, thank you... Counselor. I think I'll let you continue to remain active and in control of your shutdown protocols during off duty hours. There is good it would be for me to have someone to confide in myself, is it? ACH: Then I will be here whenever you need me. Have a pleasant day, Counselor. Computer, end program.::And with that the ACH shimmered away:: ::Llewelyn washed his face in the office lavatory, straightened his uniform and with a feeling of renewed vigor, left his office to keep his appointment with the Independence-A's Chief Medical Officer::
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think that this example is a pretty good illustration of not only side and back-story development, but of a creative use of the ACH as well. Additionally, I think that the sim demonstrates some of the counseling techniques that can be utilized in the role of the counselor. These will be elaborated on in more detail later, but for now you can see what is possible.