Rea studied social work in her home country of Croatia, where she also gained her first practice experiences, working with refugees and displaced persons from Croatia and Bosnia. In 1994, she moved to UK to further her social work learning doing an MA under supervision of late Prof. David Brandon at the Anglia Ruskin University. Rea also worked with Prof. Brandon and other colleagues at 'Shield', an agency based at Anglia Ruskin which aimed to link social work learning, research and practice. This included a variety of research and practice projects, from developing care plans for people with learning difficulties and people with mental health issues that were moving from large institutions to community living options (1994/95) to working on one of the first studies on direct payments in UK (97/98).
In 1999, Rea moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), initially to work as a Project Manager for a TEMPUS-funded project that initiated Community Mental Health MA programmes at two Universities in BiH (Sarajevo and Banja Luka). In parallel, she supported the development of the mental health system survivor movement in BiH and took part in the first studies on the reform of community mental health services in this country. Subsequently, Rea worked as a freelance consultant on social welfare reform, as an adviser and researcher for a variety of international organisations across South-East Europe.
Following completion of her PhD in 2007, Rea started working at Swansea University in UK as a Programme Director for BSc in Social Work and continued to conduct consultancy work on social welfare reform in South-East Europe.
Between 2011-2013, she worked as the Research and Monitoring Director at the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, an international voluntary sector organisation that conducts strategic litigation and advocacy on the rights of people with mental health problems and people with intellectual disabilities in Europe and Africa.