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Plovdiv Therapy Ltd. –  a psychological counseling provider

Plovdiv Therapy Ltd. - a psychological counseling provider

Plovdiv Therapy Ltd. is a psychological counseling provider, aspiring to fill in the role of a navigator in the field of mental health. Based in Bulgaria, where the practices of counseling and psychotherapy are not regulated by law, the company unites qualified professionals from various fields of expertise to ensure that every person’s need is properly met. The owner, Mrs. Karina Byalkova, believes that progress is not possible without a good network, so she keeps working toward coming together in a culture of breaking apart.   

Why I do what I do

The question which has always nurtured my motivation to work in counseling is “Why do people fail at being happy?” All psychological theories I have ever learned make some fair attempts in answering that question. The reason they probably fail is that there is no unified answer. Every person has their own, and what I do in practice is helping people discover the glitches in their unique narratives. My vision is that if I surround myself with happy people, my life feels better. Happy people build happy communities and happy communities take good care of the world. So yes, my work is my way to contribute to a better world. I want to have more happy people around me, so I work hard to heal suffering when I see it. And when I can’t, because I have my limits, at least I  know someone who can. 

I have always wanted to study abroad. I started preparing to leave Bulgaria when I was 15 – I enrolled in a language school in my hometown. I had to earn a scholarship because the costs of American education were unbearable to my family. I ended up at the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece to obtain a Bachelor’s and then went to the University of Indianapolis for my Master’s in Clinical Psychology. I was about to secure a permanent job in Greece, which I love enormously up to this day, but the crisis hit hard and I had to return to Bulgaria. I had to hold a variety of jobs at first. I consulted clients after working hours in my home office before I could afford to be self-employed full-time. Check out my private practice here. Then, after a few years of success, I had to dig up for another scholarship to get my training at Beck Institute.     

The challenges 

When I first voiced my ambition to open up a private practice in counseling and psychotherapy outside of the country’s capital, I was met with straightforward ridicule. We are a poor country – people live on $600 per month. The majority of the population is concerned with covering living expenses. My friends thought no one would ever set money aside to deal with mental health issues, because mental health services are deemed a luxury. Health insurance covers only psychiatric treatment, so counselors and psychotherapists rely solely on clients who can afford their services. Setting up for a low-paid field with a narrow client base didn’t look like a good prospect at the time, but I stuck to my vision.

Then, there was the stigma. Talking about mental health has been a no-no for decades. Even those who could afford counseling thought that they should be able to tackle challenges on their own. My first employment was at a hospital. People dreaded being seen walking through the “Psychologist” office. I had to do routine assessment and I was usually greeted with suspicion and mistrust. Prospective clients didn’t even want to take and pass on my business cards. Happily, this trend began its reversal in the past decade, with more people turning to professionals in challenging times.

Let’s say I finally found some people, who were willing and able to have counseling. The next great obstacle was the thorough legal disorder in which that could possibly happen. They disliked me taking notes in sessions, they disliked my informed consent form (they have never been given any!) etc. I went to my insurance agent to apply for professional liability, just in case I have to process any complaints, but it turns out insurance companies don’t even have a product to offer me. In the next few months, I discovered how counseling is typically conducted here: the client goes to the counselor’s apartment, they talk whatever they talk about, and the client pays cash at the end of the session. No invoice, no registration, nothing. These “talks” might include anything from astrological mapping to straightforward advice-giving. I had to charge clients three times higher than many such “psychologists” just to cover my training. It was hard to earn their trust in both psychology and myself. 

The challenges the market faces today are somewhat different. There is a greater demand for mental health services globally, but the supply falls short. In Western countries clients have to wait for months to get to an entry-level specialist, whereas here, in Bulgaria, clients can see someone within a week or two, but then they have to spend months searching for quality and they end up visiting five different psychologists before choosing someone to work with long-term. 

Recent developments

Digitalization changed the very nature of counseling. Many colleagues jumped with joy, because online sessions meant cheaper sessions, thus more clients. Video platforms connecting clients and counselors are on the rise – I personally signed up for a few. Although this modern trend makes the services much more accessible, I am not that enthusiastic about it. Building a relationship through a screen creates numerous limitations, and the whole process of connecting is jeopardized. But there is a large segment of the population that would never asked for help otherwise. 

For professionals, digitalization helps in obtaining quality training. You can nowadays attend courses and workshops conducted at any place in the world. The switch to online meetings brought along by the CoVid-19 hysteria has actually made it easier for us to attend conferences and seminars at no travel or accommodation costs. But again, lots of misuses occur – everyone has suddenly decided they have something to teach others. So be mindful.

The advice I wish I was given

A lot of psychology graduates enroll in the programs because the programs are either trendy or easy to get in. Two years after graduation they work in entirely different fields. If you are in those ten percent who actually want to make your living, you will have to put a lot of effort in, and you will have to wait long before you see any results. Learning never ends. More than ten years into practice I am again a student. If you stop learning, you are thrown out. So brace yourself and be patient. 

You will sometimes be bombarded by demotivation. Some clients will not like you. Some colleagues will not like you. You will sometimes wonder if you are doing any good. But as long as you find a couple of like-minded colleagues, you will be able to pull it through. It is often painful to hear from colleagues that they are in the field ‘to solve their personal problems’ or ‘to not have a boss’. If you don’t genuinely hold the value for helping others, you will never become a good counselor. Be clear about what your motivation is.

One thing that I found was not accentuated enough in graduate training was the importance of finding a mentor. Having a good mentor can save you several years of your professional development. Sometimes it is better to stick to a person, rather than to a workplace. Because a good role model can teach you much more than a prestigious institution where everyone is burdened by an impossible caseload. Having someone you respect believe in you is the quick fix for the times when your motivation might fail you.   

Dietician MS, Lund University, Sweden Nutrition plays an important role in human life. Eating habits are one of the factors that affect our health. There is often a misconception among people that nutritionists force a very restrictive diet, but that is not true. In fact, I don't ban any products, but I point out dietary mistakes and help change them by giving tips and new recipes that I've tried myself. I advise my patients not to resist change and to be purposeful. Only with willpower and determination can a good result be achieved in any area of life, including changing eating habits. When I don't work, I love to go climbing. On a Friday evening, you are most likely to find me on my couch, cuddling with my dog and watching some Netflix.

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