Krystian Fikert first came to Ireland in 2004, after finishing his masters in clinical psychology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland.
“I had already travelled quite a lot as a student, to the US and the UK. I had a desire to explore a new culture and meet new people, and thought that I would work straight away as a psychologist.”
However, things were a little tougher than he expected and his first jobs were in a nightclub and a hotel before becoming employed as a Polish-speaking “search quality associate” in Google.
“This was the perfect job for me, working in a multicultural company with access to the newest technologies. I’m a very techie person and love new gadgets.”
While he worked at Google, Fikert thought more about how he could work as a mental health professional here. “I discovered that many people had difficulties accessing mental health services in Ireland.” And so, in 2006, Fikert began to offer counselling services to the Polish community on a voluntary basis in Dublin city centre.
“Two or three other Polish psychologists joined me, so we were able to make it more professional. We set up a website to share information with Polish people here.”
Within a year, the group – who were then called Poradnia Psychologiczna Dublin: the Psychology Centre (PPD) – got a small grant from a Polish not-for-profit organisation to rent counselling rooms.
“We saw 300 people in 2007. We were dealing mainly with the Polish community with anxiety/depression, family problems or split families with husbands working in the construction sector here and the rest of the family back in Poland.
“It was a very exciting time for us. I’m not trained in business, so fortunately I met good people to guide me in how to run an organisation properly in Ireland.
“In fact, I was surprised how open, friendly and approachable people were in helping an unknown organisation to start offering a service. That would be more difficult in Poland. There is a very strong community dynamic in Ireland and everybody is willing to engage and help.”
At this stage, the organisation was charging a small fee to clients. Within two years, PPD applied for and received funding through Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI).
“As well as the financial support from SEI, there was huge mentoring support, which was the most important part for us,” says Fikert. By then, the organisation was dealing with the wider immigrant community, with Italian, Spanish and Russian psychologists joining them.
In December 2008, it moved to its current headquarters at 1 Chelmsford Road in Ranelagh, Dublin 6, and developed a sliding scale of charges (€20 for unemployed; €30 for part-time workers; and €50 for full-time workers) for a 50-minute counselling session. The National Office for Suicide Prevention gave the organisation a grant to support its work with the Polish community in 2009.
Offering counselling in the mother tongue of clients has been a significant factor in the success of the organisation.
“It’s easier to express emotions and what’s going on in your life in your mother tongue. Sometimes, people don’t have enough language capacity in their second language, or they might avoid certain words or expressions that are very important to express how they feel,” says Fikert.
In 2010, the centre rebranded as MyMind – Mental Health Matters, while moving into mainstream society. “We had 20 mental health professionals, counsellors and psychotherapists at that stage,” says Fikert. The following year, Ashoka Ireland elected Fikert as an Irish Ashoka fellow for his social entrepreneurship.
Ashoka Ireland identified MyMind as offering an easily accessed, low-cost, community-based mental health service that was filling the gap between slow public services and costly private services.
Clients can self-refer without the need for a letter from their GP. To access psychological support through the public health system, individuals must first consult with their GP and be referred on. Private counselling or psychotherapy sessions cost between €80 and €120 an hour.
A key aspect of the mental health support offered through MyMind is that clients can access counselling online as well as through face-to-face contact within 72 hours of their request for help.
“We offer online video consultations through Google Hangouts and Skype. Online chat is also available to clients as well as email-based questions and answers. Our core work is one-to-one therapy but the online space allows people to feel comfortable talking about their problems. People can also completely manage their appointments online, ask for specific therapists or cancel and reschedule appointments.”
MyMind also offers work-based group therapy and in-company talks on mental wellbeing and staff resilience.
Counselling in 10 languages
MyMind opened an office in Cork in 2013 and one in Limerick in 2014. “We now have six employees: four in Dublin [in Ranelagh and on Amiens Street], one in Cork and one in Limerick. Our team of psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists, who are self-employed, has grown to 80 offering counselling in 10 languages,” says Fikert.
Over the past five years, MyMind has seen 4,000 clients and hopes to open a service in Galway next year. Recently, MyMind has rebranded again as a “centre for mental wellbeing” and developed a partnership with St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, where cross-referrals can occur.
“We have also begun to place more emphasis on early intervention and prevention of mental health problems, with the opportunity to refer clients with moderate to severe mental health problems or crisis intervention to other services in the HSE and St Patrick’s,” says Fikert.
“The majority of our clients are aged from 25 to 45 because we have a high online presence. We are keen to target people at the initial stages of their difficulties: depression, anxiety, high levels of anger, frustration or tension in their bodies, etc.”
As for Fikert, his initial plans to stay a year or two in Ireland have become long term.
“I’ve recently bought a house with my partner so I’m here to stay. I’m currently considering doing an MBA or other formal management training to further develop the potential of MyMind.”