Deanna Troi and the Power of Empathy

Still of Troi in First Contact

All my life I’ve been an Empath and could sense how other people were feeling. Honestly, it was a real pain in the neck until I reached my 30s and focused my empathic skills to help others with energetic and spiritual counseling. In writing about learning how to respond to others with more empathy, it made sense to explore Deanna Troi’s techniques.

I shared this topic with close Trekker friends. Overwhelmingly their response was, “Why would you write about her?” and “She got violated by an alien and agreed to have its baby, for goodness’ sake!”

It was then I realized that empaths kind of get a bad rap – in space, and on Earth. People often think of empathic gifts as other-worldly, and associate them with the ability to read minds. But rather than telepathy, empaths fulfill the unusual task of acting as mirrors to the people and environment around them.

Deanna Troi was written as a gentle (and sometimes passive) character who responds differently to the Enterprise’s adventures compared to say, a Riker or Picard. Her purpose within the crew is to read others’ feelings and inner motives, share this information with her peers, and help them to find solutions to their inner and outer conflicts through her counseling.

As I reviewed my favorite TNG episodes, I agreed with my friends that the writers could have written stronger storylines for her, in which she could have channeled the depths and powers of empathy much more! But I’m grateful that they brought her back for three Voyager episodes, where she is a wiser, stronger version of herself.

Here are some tips on deep listening, based on her Voyager appearances, that resonated with my own empathic experiences. I hope they can be helpful for you the next time you’re called to flex your own empathic skills.

  1. Read body language and tone at the onset and throughout the conversation. Observe the initial mood and body language of the person you’re trying to empathize with, be it a human or alien species.

In this clip from “Pathfinder,” Troi visits Reg Barclay, and she can see he’s nervous and preoccupied:

  1. Be Present and interested. Turn your body, eyes and attention to the person you’re listening to. This means putting away phones, tablets, shutting off the TV, or in Troi’s case, ignoring the chocolate ice cream.


  1. Offer reassurance. Let the person you’re empathizing with know you’re available to listen, and wish to help.


  1. Listen patiently and let them lead the conversation. Troi rocks at deep listening. Waiting for the person to finish their thoughts and not interrupting establishes safety and trust. It also allows you more time to observe, and really notice the emotional undertones of what they are saying.


  1. Imagine and try to feel what they are experiencing. “Be the Vulcan. Be the Ferengi. Be The Klingon.” Immersing empathically requires Troi to maintain a willingness to allow herself to feel “the story” of people and species very differently than herself. Allow yourself to feel with them and for them as they share their feelings.


  1. Ask questions and share the language of empathy. Affirm their feelings with words of empathy: “I’m so sorry you have deal with this” or “ I can understand how you might feel that way about Romulans.”


  1. Give honest, constructive feedback. Check in with your gut. What feelings are coming up after observing and receiving their information and emotional content? Reserve judgement but share your feedback honestly, openly and kindly.


  1. Assist in envisioning outcomes. More often than not, Deanna’s counseling includes building coping strategies and communication solutions. The best empathy experiences we can have are when we help to encourage the self-trust and intuition of those we empathize with.


  1. Empathize, then let it go. Empaths can burn out by staying too involved in the outcome of our empathy. Some people will use your empathy for their greatest good, others may not. Letting go of attachment to outcomes keeps empaths healthy.


  1. And if you find yourself dealing with an ambitious Dabo girl with an attitude…you may even find a moment to let her know who’s she’s dealing with – a bad-ass Empath!


(clip from “Inside Man,” Voyager, S7, E6)

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