Sunflower Counselling Cardiff

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Conkers not bonkers

Recently, a person who knew I was a counsellor sidled up to me and, I guess in an attempt to initiate conversation, said "Seen any nutters recently?". I paused, recognising that this was said in a provocative manner and replied "No more nuts than you or I". He laughed. My feeling is that he doesn't understand counselling and that he finds what goes on in a counselling room both intriguing and challenging.

Later that week as I was taking a stroll into Cardiff's city centre for lunch I was reflecting on his comment about 'nutters'. When I was walking past Cardiff Castle something on the pavement caught my eye. As I fixed my gaze on the object I smiled to myself. I bent down and picked up a conker sealed in its spiky protective shell. The protective wrapper is spiky, abrasive and a potential deterrent to animals that would choose to eat the precious kernel.

I believe that all individuals have at their core something that is both beautiful and incredibly precious. I also believe that from our earliest experiences we observe how we relate to each other, e.g. noticing behaviour that is both acceptable and unacceptable. We then develop behaviour and a way of being that allows us to be acceptable within that environment. We are sophisticated social animals that experience emotional discomfort (a threat to the precious core) which we counter with the construction of defence mechanisms. These defences can be related to behaviour, e.g. withdrawing from a conversation when it gets difficult, or to thought patterns, e.g. 'I'm rubbish at everything, so there's no point trying something new'. We may not even be aware of our own defence mechanisms as they have been established for so long that they become part of who we are.

In my counselling role I strive to create a safe, supportive, non-judgemental and warm environment where I truly listen to my clients. In this space clients can become aware of their long standing defence mechanisms, gain an understanding of how they were formed and how they have helped. A client can can then decide if they are still useful in their current environment. If they are no longer helpful we can then explore alternatives that are.

In closing I guess many things can look 'bonkers' if there is no context. My job is to explore that context with the client and to do that I prefer to see my clients as conkers, not bonkers.


  1. Hi Sunflower counselling,
    The catchy title of this post caught my eye and I carried on reading.
    Congratulations on wonderful and informative article.
    I'm often asked if I think people "need help" I always answer therapy is a life choice we make to learn,grow and develop.
    I totally agree with you that all of us have a true self which is beautiful and precious.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your comments.

      Warm regards.

  2. Fab blog Phil, "I believe that all individuals have at their core something that is both beautiful and incredibly precious" - amen to that. If only we could get rid of the hard, spiky exterior.

    I was watching a program about gypsy bare knuckle fighters recently - maybe I'm the nutter, but I believe there's more to life than knocking each other senseless!

  3. Hi David,

    Thanks for your feedback, much appreciated.

    With respect to the hard, spiky exterior ... it has a protective quality to it, so to strip it completely away in all circumstances carries risk. I guess ideally we'd all be aware of it and have the ability to control the degree to which we expose the precious inner core.

    With respect to bare knuckle fighting ... I often ask clients to reflect on who taught them how to resolve situations. Quite often they've had limited guidance into the alternative ways of resolving problems. In this story if situation clients often find the expression "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" helpful.