Why Star Trek Starfleet Officers Need Therapy

This season, the third episode of Lower decks‘ focused a lot on Mariner and Tendi finally having a girls’ trip (and it’s going about as badly as you’d expect). However, one of the episode’s subplots involves their security commander, Shaxs, who suddenly returns as if nothing had happened. The main bridge crew often appear in episodes, but what’s complicated about Shaxs is that he heroically died in last season’s finale. This upsets Rutherford as the security guard sacrificed his life to save him. And now that Shaxs is back, it’s driving him crazy, not knowing how it happened, despite his friends not knowing.


The half-joked plot references the thousands of deck crew experiences across the star trek franchise where the characters valiantly risk their lives, sacrifice themselves or die at random, only to return later in the episode. It started with Spock sacrificing himself for the ship in Khan’s Wrathto return due to a crazy mind-meld and a planet that caused him to grow a new body in Spock’s Search. And let’s be honest, given how often this happens, Starfleet really needs to provide better mental health care for all the weird things its officers are going through.

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Explaining the Shax

Picture via CBS All Access

Let’s explain Shax’s particular circumstances a bit more in depth. When Shaxs died in the Season 1 finale, he stayed on a Pakled ship to make sure he self-destructed. Initially, Rutherford would have been the one trapped there, but Shax took his place. Several months after his death, he suddenly reappears on the ship. In other hiking series, since the main bridge crew are the main characters, the episode would normally focus on how wild he came back or how he adapted to the circumstances of the several months he missed. They replaced his post, after all.

However, since it is Lower decks, the Rutherfords and Boimlers of the world have no idea how the Shax came back. They toss around a few referential theories (transporter model buffer crash, restored katra, mirror universe switch, Borg rebuild, etc.) but Rutherford spends much of the episode painfully curious and haunted by how this would have could occur. And it’s clear that Shaxs is dealing with it on a medium level. He hangs out with his friends like Billups, but he jumps down the throat of any cadet who asks because they’re (rightly) confused. In the end, Rutherford asks Shaxs. The Bajoran relents and offers him the details as his death was tied to Rutherford’s survival, but the public still doesn’t know the exact details. All that’s shared out loud is that it’s a Black Mountain resurrection project and dark, haunting flashbacks.

History of the Star Trek Bridge Adventures

Picture via CBS

As stated in the episode, hiking characters have been tortured, died, and resurrected in a variety of gruesome ways, from violent hallucinations to Borg assimilation to body hijacking. In one particularly awful episode played casually, Scotty from TOS has been trapped in a pattern buffer for hundreds of years. Enterprise D found him like this, old and confused and out of his time. He expected his own Enterprise crew to find and save him, but now the majority of his friends (except Spock) are long dead. Even the engineering he loved is completely outdated and he is forced to live out the rest of his life in an unknown galaxy. Still, the episode is played to be nostalgic and not the waking terror that it is.

Also, there is a running joke among fans that the series has a lot of terrible things happening especially to their transporter boss, Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney). He spends 20 years in prison in virtual reality, loses his daughter, is kidnapped and tried by Cardassians. He watches his clone die, runs into a dying man’s mind, and gets possessed by an evil alien. He also has to fight his wife when something similar happens to him, he travels back in time and sees his own death twice, and also has a lot of trauma from the Cardassian War that the writers only mention when appropriate. All the while, O’Brien receives little to no mental health support or therapy for his many traumatic experiences. In the episode right after, he’s not only back to his normal duties, but he’s almost gone for a fun little jaunt into the mirror universe of all locations.

O’Brien should have spent a few weeks on paid vacation and months, if not years, in therapy for this, not on conveyor belts trying to get to meet his weird Mirror Universe counterpart “Smiley.” Everyone understands that episodic shows are hard to treat differently, but if there wasn’t going to be much in the episode anyway, there could have been a throwaway line that basically said “O’Brien is on leave for a little while”, right? It’s better than pretending nothing happened. But, in the end, let’s just hope O’Brien got plenty of off-screen treatment for all the screwed-up sci-fi shenanigans that broke his brain in half.

The Misuse of Troi (AKA Deanna Deserves a Raise)

Picture via CBS

Speaking of which, one of the main counter-arguments to this idea is the fact that the two GNT and DS9 very deliberately have advisor characters: Ezri Dax and Deanna Troi. However, if you really look at the plots they got and the numbers around their work, it doesn’t add up nicely. Let’s take Deanna Troi first. The average therapist sees 25 to 45 patients per week. If the whole bridge crew just had a rotating schedule of seeing her once a week, that wouldn’t be so bad. However, it is implied that she is the only advisor on the Enterprise D. And how many people are on this ship? 1,012. 907 of them are crew members, while the rest are their families. To put that into perspective, if Counselor Troi was seeing 45 patients a week and doing monthly checkups with the entire team of 907 people, it would take about 3 weeks to get there. If someone needed to be seen more often or was going through a difficult time, it would easily overload their schedule.

And considering how many horrific and traumatic things people have seen on screen, there’s no way Councilor Troi could properly deal with everyone on the ship. Not unless people aren’t going to therapy as much as they should, at least. If Captain Picard is any example, it seems that even deeply traumatized people might avoid the advice they need. Throughout the series, the only people we see Troi regularly advising or advising are Lt. Barclay, Beverly Crusher, Unique Characters of the Week, and Worf and Alexander building their father-son relationship. While all of these sessions fans are seeing are proactive, they pale in comparison to the number of people expected to come into his office. If fans take into account how much Picard still suffers from his Borg past in his new series, he might have used a few more sessions.

In the end, either Councilwoman Troi isn’t able to convince people to come to her office, or she’s too overwhelmed by the large team to reach everyone who needs it. Likewise, Ezri advises the crew in his final season of DS9, but one of his only real “cases” that the series focuses on is Garak’s claustrophobia. Although this is a positive interaction, it rarely deals with the trauma of war that DS9 Starfleet members must face it. The station’s 300 permanent residents are as bad as Troi’s numbers, but still a lot for a single councillor. And many other shows don’t even have a counselor, despite all the therapy their people need as well.

Trek with therapy

Picture via CBS

Mental health therapy and care have proven to be very important parts of maintaining a healthy human being, especially as people become more and more cerebral. So if it helps modern people, it should definitely be an absolute necessity for the dynamic officers of the future. Maybe a little more therapy would mean O’Brien would stop throwing his shoulder into the holodeck as a distraction. Maybe Worf and Alexander would have a working family relationship. Captain Archer might have handled his issues with the Vulcans better and treated T’Pol with more respect. Theoretically, Shaxs could have returned without his entire existence becoming an uncomfortable taboo. Kurtzmann-era shows seem to try to deal more with personal trauma, whether it’s Picard’s long history of service or Burnham’s many childhood traumas. However, exploring those with character is different from putting them through therapy.

From TOS for Discovery, hiking the characters are all messy. So really, it’s time Starfleet invested in more therapists so their officers would stop getting their heads kicked in half. What if it happens? Well, maybe acknowledging that would make a little more sense than pretending they’re perfectly healthy, because characters like Shaxs and O’Brien and Picard certainly aren’t.

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