Meet our mental health counsellor: Marique Van Heerden

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

I come from South Africa, a vibrant country which is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. This culturally diversed landscape, unfortunately, also deals with multiple social issues such as poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence and rape. The emotional support needed by those affected by traumatic events influenced my decision to change professions and pursue a career in psychology.

Pursuing a career in psychology has lead me to work and volunteer in different countries such as Russia, Japan, Czechia and The Netherlands where I was fortunate enough to experience different cultures which have shaped me tremendously. It has also given me insight into different cultural practices, and most importantly to be culturally sensitive which I believe is a vital competency for anyone working in mental health. 

In the future, I hope to be more involved in women’s empowerment and mental health since women are more vulnerable to certain mental health conditions than men. I also hope to incorporate my love for horses and horse riding by using equine therapy to assist clients who are navigating challenging emotional experiences.

As a counsellor, can you tell me what the main motivation was for you to study psychology?

I have always felt my ability to create and maintain long lasting relationships as an effective tool to assist those close to me. I was and still is, very curious about human behaviour and where our behaviours stem from. I also wanted to foster my enthusiasm working with adults and children into an engaging career where I can support and facilitate positive life changes.

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

I provide online individual counselling sessions for expats living in Czechia. I usually meet clients on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The sessions are driven by the current challenges or changes they are facing. My role is to help my clients view their challenges as something that they are able to control and manage, and as a team we work together, seeking several different methods or approaches to view these challenges form a different perspective. It is very important to me that my clients feel in control about their life choices, and so, I also incorporate practical tasks which are easily applicable and effective in their every day lives. 

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Working together as a team, setting goals and seeing how my clients reach their goals by applying what we have discussed in our sessions bring me great joy. It is wonderful seeing clients overcome challenges with great resilience, hope and strength. 

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

My main area of interest is clinical psychology and I am currently continuing my education to practice as a clinical psychologist in a few years’ time. Clinical psychology  focuses on psychopathology and clinical diagnoses. Many of us sometimes get confused between clinical and counselling psychologists since there there are many overlaps between the work and services these psychologists offer. However, while counselling psychologists take on a holistic approach to alleviate their clients’ stressors, clinical psychologists focus more on psychosis or other serious mental illnesses.

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

I believe loneliness is an epidemic of our time which results in many clients living with anxiety or depression symptoms. Other clients seek out support and guidance when faced with the struggles of living in a foreign country. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic had significant psychological and social effects on all of us, and many are still trying to effectively manage traumatic emotions. I further expect that in the future we may find it troublesome to adjust to our pre-COVID lives which could also increase our psychophysical stress.

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

Human connection is essential for our emotional and physical well-being, and being an expat means that one may feel out of place and even alienated in a world that is very different from our own reality and customs. This “loss” of connection while at the same time maintaining old friendships and seeking new ones are exhausting, and many of us crave a sense of belonging which can be a lengthy and tiresome process to establish. 

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

  • Individual counselling allows you to see or explore your challenges from a new and different perspective without judgement. It is place where you can feel safe and be completely honest with your counsellor about your thoughts and feelings. Even though friends and family may support us, a counsellor is an objective party guiding you without judgement or preconceived notions.
  • At certain times in life, we all experience feelings of being overwhelmed. Counselling enables you to identify issues and behaviours you may not have been aware of and finds approaches to help you cope. 
  • When making your counsellor aware of bottled up emotions and pain, burdens become shared,which results in a relieving experience.

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

The days are getting shorter and we can all feel winter looming. “Winter blues” or seasonal depression may be even more prominent if you’re from a country with a sunnier disposition. To minimise or prevent depressive feelings, continue partaking in activities you enjoyed in Autumn or Summer- go on hikes, visit museums, initiate group outings or volunteer at a local organisation. Make sure you fill up your social calendar with events that you feel excited about such as visiting Christmas markets, baking gingerbread cookies or organising a ski-trip which will also force you to leave your apartment. Create your own light by stocking up on candles or fairy lights and speak to your doctor about taking medicinal boosters such as Vitamin D. 

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