EHCP Process and Delay

How to Handle Stress During EHCP Delays

Reading Time: 6 minutes

There are few things in life we can count on, If you require something from the system, expect to wait, make use of the complaints process and be in the main underwhelmed, angry, or neutral about the experience.

Then there is the Special Education Needs System, which some might argue takes waiting and disappointment, with some euphoric wins to another level. Even if you have the bandwidth to navigate a stage 1 complaint, stage 2 complaint, or Local Government Ombudsmen for Social Care complaint, the waiting game is a systemic feature of the EHCP process.

The Psychology of Delay

As soon as we are old enough to get something in our own steam we encounter ‘delay’. Buy a packet of crisps, we queue up at the desk, we queue for lunch at school, queue to the exam hall, wait in a queue on the telephone, we wait for a friend to respond to a WhatsApp message. In fact, as beings, the delay is part of our makeup, otherwise, we would simply have back-to-back birthdays instead of staggering them 1 year apart. So why then can delay be such a source of stress and anxiety? Due to a source of two challenging states of mind, uncertainty and lack of control.

Uncertainty: The Impact of Not Knowing What is Coming

The more skin in the game you have in something, the higher the stakes, there can be little to eclipse this than being a parent, guardian, or caregiver to a child. What is at stake in the EHCP process is the child’s ability to access the education system. This state of uncertainty, of not knowing can lead to a variety of imagined scenarios, often leaning towards a negative bias or worst-case scenario outcome. Every parent or guardian at one point or another has this buried thought their child may leave the education system with a certificate for attendance, and then what will they do?

Lack of Control: The Inability to Influence the Outcome

The concept of ‘Lack of Control’ is closely related to the theory of ‘Learned Helplessness’ which is a process that occurs when someone believes the outcome in their life is out of their control. They learn that their behaviour makes no difference, to their environment, progress, and direction in life. When we learn something is true, it becomes our truth, and we end up not trying to change, what we know as true, because what is the point? Even when a solution is clear to see, learned helplessness kicks in.

Have you ever had a problem, that is so unsurmountable when you tell a friend they simply cannot see what the fuss is about? You explain your problem again, and you get frustrated because they are not hearing or understanding you. You either stop in your tracks listening to a few words of wisdom from this friend that has the effect of a lightning rod from the sky or, you simply carve that person out of your sphere of engagement, and seek out only those who align with your worldly view.

Psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier first identified learned helplessness in the 1960s, using behavioural experiments, to show how learned behaviour, in the end, will become the foundation of our behaviour.

The opposite of Learned behaviour, is learned hopefulness, which makes sense right?

When our default position is that we lack control, we may try to seek control as much as possible, including things we have no control over whatsoever, which further fuels our learned belief system. Uncertainty adds fuel to this furnace.

Lack of control restricts our ability to influence the outcome or speed up the process on a time-bound process. Does an appeal process that runs for 6 months pause the child education learning clock? No, the child will transition from primary to secondary whatever has or has not been agreed.

Why is Delay Uncomfortable for Parents?

The stress of waiting involves the mental space of the ‘unknown’, the anticipated what-if. This leaves the parent working along the worst-case scenario line of thought of ‘what do we do then’, all while waiting for the outcome. This dance will occur between the anticipated and hoped-for outcome and the likely scenario of rejection or other dreaded responses.

Even when things go the way you hoped for, we can still take a mental health battering just in experiencing the process of delay. The longer the delay, the heavier the hit we can take, in our sometimes fragile ecosystems of ourselves. We can sometimes refer to this as ‘anticipation anxiety’.

“I work in commercial property, no relevance to this experience other than, it does not matter what your background, how smart you are at writing letters. I had never interfaced directly with a council before, other than setting up a direct debit and making complaints about fly-tipping. We were not prepared for how long (and broken) the SEND process took, in the end, we moved [house], the whole process did sort of start over, but at least where we moved, the new school was small, and we had no history with anyone, so it all functioned how a school should. You just get to a point where you have to draw a line how much of your time you are going to spend chasing something and then put more effort in out of school tutors/ help, home ed would have been an option, if we did not move.”

Parent’s view on a long process and taking back control

Impact of the Problem: Unseen Burdens

EHCP delays extend beyond the practical implications; they cast shadows on parents’ mental health. The constant uncertainty triggers stress, anxiety, and frustration. As a therapist who’s personally navigated the EHCP process, I understand the heavy toll these delays take on parents. The sleepless nights, the endless pondering, and the desire for clarity can leave parents emotionally drained, affecting their overall well-being of not only themselves but those around them.

Cartoon of a family on a boat navigating rough waters labeled EHCP Delays with a lighthouse in the distance shining a light on a safe path
Cartoon of a family on a boat navigating rough waters labeled EHCP Delays with a lighthouse in the distance shining a light on a safe path

Exploring the Potential of 1-to-1 Therapy at EHCParent

At the EHCParent, we offer One-to-one Cognitive Behavioral Hypnotherapy, which is a targeted approach, to help parents cope with the ups and downs of the EHCP process. Therapy aims to provide parents with coping mechanisms, offering strategies to manage stress and anxiety related to EHCP uncertainties and delays.

We focus on understanding the underlying causes of emotional distress. Guiding parents through introspection and behavioral adjustments empowers them to navigate the EHCP process with increased resilience and strength. Through this approach, many have found a way to regain a sense of control, shifting their mindset to concentrate on areas they can influence amidst the uncertainties.

Empathy Rooted in Experience

My journey as a therapist is one where I walked the full end-to-end path of the EHCP process. I understand the sleepless nights, the anxious thoughts, and the longing for clarity. When parents engage in 1-to-1 sessions with me, they’re not just accessing therapy; they’re connecting with someone who’s been through the same trials and understands the emotional intricacies involved.

Practical Tip: Grounding Exercise for Moments of Overwhelm

This grounding exercise is designed to help parents reconnect with the present moment, especially during times of heightened stress or anxiety related to EHCP delays or uncertainties.

  1. Find a Quiet Space: If possible, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes. This could be a quiet corner of a room, a park, or even your car.
  2. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique:
    • 5: Identify five things you can see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, or anything that catches your eye.
    • 4: Identify four things you can touch around you. It might be the texture of your shirt, the cool surface of a table, or the softness of a pillow.
    • 3: Identify three things you can hear. This could be the sound of the wind, distant chatter, or the hum of an appliance.
    • 2: Identify two things you can smell. Maybe you can smell freshly cut grass or the aroma of a nearby coffee.
    • 1: Identify one thing you can taste. It could be the lingering taste of a drink or a snack.
  3. Deep Breathing: After the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a count of three, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
  4. Reflect: Open your eyes and take a moment to reflect on how you feel. The aim is to feel more connected to your surroundings and less caught up in overwhelming thoughts.

Note: This exercise can be done as often as needed. It’s a quick way to anchor yourself during moments of stress and can be especially helpful when feeling overwhelmed by the EHCP process.

A Path Towards Clarity

EHCP delays are more than logistical challenges; they’re emotional burdens that impact parents’ mental well-being. Recognizing the toll that uncertainty takes on families, I offer a solution rooted in personal experience and professional expertise – 1-to-1 CBH therapy. This targeted approach equips parents with the tools to manage stress, anxiety, and frustration, guiding them toward a path of clarity and resilience. As a therapist who’s personally navigated the EHCP process, I’m committed to being the support system parents need during their journey. With CBH, the weight of uncertainty can be replaced with a renewed sense of strength and control.

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