Ivona Puskaric Mental Health Counselor

Ivona, welcome and happy to have you for our interview. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hey, thank you for the invitation. I come from a small city Daruvar in Croatia. In Croatia I studied psychology and gained my first work experience. One of my first jobs was in a kindergarten where I learnt a lot about children’s development, parenting and work in group. As I have always wanted to live abroad, I used the opportunity that my contract expired and moved to Prague. After some time working in a company here in Prague, I decided to join projects like Prague Integration that give me an opportunity to do what I personally call ¨Multilingual Psychology¨. I am passionate about both, psychology and languages, and I am happy to provide help and support in 4 languages.

As a psychologist now, can you tell me what the main motivation was for you to study psychology back in the days?

Curiosity. I was always interested in learning more about the human mind. I was also curious to understand why some individuals are different than others and how the same individual acts differently in different situations.

Can you tell us a bit more about your position as a mental health counsellor-psychologist in Prague Integration? What are your main responsibilities?

I provide individual counselling and support groups for expats living in Czech Republic. Individual counselling can be face-to-face or online. I meet clients mostly on weekly basis. During sessions, I help clients to discover and understand themselves, to recognize some dysfunctional mechanisms and to find the way out of it, but also to find out their strengths and potential.

In support groups I am a facilitator. My task as a facilitator is, with relevant questions and activities, to create an environment which allows participants to share their experience, thoughts, and emotions, receive support and understanding for their situation and learn coping strategies. A support group is always about specific topics like for example social anxiety, COVID-19 crisis, insomnia, etc. The capacity of our groups is 8 participants, and we usually meet 8 times.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Making a difference. I enjoy seeing my clients clearing their concerns, becoming more aware about themselves, and becoming more confident.

Is there any specific mental health field you are interested in? If yes, can you tell us more about it?

Constant thinking about past experiences is draining our mental energy. Being stuck on old patterns stops us from moving forward, and I am particularly fond of helping my clients overcome these blockers. To develop effective skills for life and realize your potential is what I am interested in.

Can you tell us more about the main areas of concern that clients who come to you look for help with?

Some clients come to resolve patterns that limit them in their interpersonal relationships. Others come because they need support and guidance through unexpected situations that appeared in their lives. Others come to talk about what happened to them in the past and look at these experiences from a different perspective, whereas some of the clients just want to improve themselves. 

Are there any specific issues that foreigners-expats tend to deal with in the Czech Republic?

I think one of the biggest issues for expats in Czech Republic is to learn Czech language. It is not an easy language, but speaking it makes your daily life easier. Other issues expats tend to deal with are adjusting to a new culture, changes in identity and concept of self, or loss of cultural norms and social support system. These multiple stressors are common to individuals who migrate and can have a significant impact on mental well-being. 

From your point of view, what are the 3 main benefits of individual counselling?

Counselling is a safe place where you will be heard, understood and accepted. Such an environment allows to increase the self-awareness and provides an opportunity to learn about yourself and gain a greater understanding about your personality, values and beliefs. Counselling is also an occasion for self-exploration which means the person must dive deep into their consciousness. Working on self-acceptance through counseling helps us to accept our flaws and imperfections as a part of being humans.

Any advice for our expats on how to keep themselves mentally healthy?

Keep in touch. Stay connected with family and friends in your home country, but also build a social circle in your new environment. Keep active. Exercise is not only great for your physical health and fitness. Evidence shows it can also improve your mental health.  Find fulfilling activities for your free time. 

Thank you.