Stress challenges for parents navigating the SEN systems

SEND Parenting Stress: Is Therapy the Answer?

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As parents, we usually find our goals and aspirations for our children, which are formed perhaps even subconsciously, before we become parents, will differ from how our children pan out. This mismatch usually involves a theoretical conceptual model of a child we create, that does not exist, and there is a straightforward test to prove it. Ask yourself this question, was you that child?

Parenting a child with Special Education Needs brings many unique experiences that usually require home-life adaptations and reasonable adjustments. Home life could be described as just about managing, challenging up to, its working ok with tolerances. Then we have the education system, a fork in the road ahead, where we usually have more questions of how is this going to work, only to find that once the child is dropped off, you either hear nothing about what is going on between 9 and 3 other than the meltdown child you pick up at the end of the day, or you’re called to pick up your little (or growing) bundle of joy in the middle of the day.

“We raised concerns about our childs development with the school, there was not so much support to go down the EHCP route, or in the SENCO’s language we can start looking and building evidence. The number of behaviour calls we would get began to creep up, which was actually out of charachter, and did not seem to be an issue before.

We interpreted some of it as a bit of a blame game, we would listen to the issue of the day or week from school, while our child stood by and would say nothing, when we got home or in the car, a different version of the story would emerge, and it wasnt quite the same way it was relaid on, we used to always say, ‘what time did you see this’, more than 60% it would be someone else. We once got in a bit of a heated ‘debate’ with the teacher of a ‘big issue’ to then eventually find the source was apparently another child – my advice remain cool, dont reject everything, but disect what your being told politely”

Parent view on the stress of School communications

The Impact on Parents: Balancing Parenthood and Advocacy

Balancing the roles of parenting and serving as a special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) advocate for your child presents a complex array of challenges and impacts on parents. At its core, this dual role demands a significant emotional, physical, and mental investment, stretching parents’ capacities and resilience to cope. The specific and unique challenge for parents is the duration of these stressors, which is in effect unlimited in time, and variable in intensity. Often the biggest hit to parents is across the core parts of accessing an adequate education.

Even married couples who are enduring a bad marriage may take the option to divorce and move on, wars end, a bullying boss ends when you leave that job and move on, a bad neighbour, is fixed when you bake them a cake, all these life challenges have to some extent some reasonable route of exit and termination. Parenting is a lifelong commitment, and many of us follow this pathway and reap a great many rewards it brings, [but] are we emotionally ready to become advocates for our child and battle the Special Education Needs system?

Cartoon of a therapist from Bohangar City Practice offering guidance and support to a parent with symbols of SEN and EHCP challenges floating around
Cartoon of a therapist from Bohangar City Practice offering guidance and support to a parent with symbols of SEN and EHCP challenges floating around

Firstly, the emotional toll of advocating for a child with SEND can be profound. Parents often face a constant battle for resources, understanding, and support, which can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and anxiety. The need to constantly push for their child’s rights and optimal development can strain personal and family well-being. This ongoing struggle requires sustaining a high level of emotional energy, which, without adequate support, can lead to burnout.

Additionally, the time commitment involved in being both a parent and an advocate is substantial. Researching conditions, treatments, and educational options; attending meetings; and communicating with professionals consume considerable time. This can lead to conflicts with other responsibilities such as employment, caring for other family members, or personal health. The challenge of juggling these demands can result in compromised attention to one or more areas of life, potentially leading to feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

Moreover, the financial impact can also be significant. Parents might need to reduce their working hours or even quit their jobs to manage their advocacy and caregiving responsibilities effectively. The costs associated with therapies, specialized equipment, and potentially legal advice for securing adequate educational provisions further strain family finances.

On the positive side, the intense involvement in their child’s educational and developmental needs often results in parents becoming highly knowledgeable and skilled advocates not only for their own child but also for others in similar situations. This expertise can empower parents, giving them a sense of purpose and community as they connect with and support other parents facing similar challenges.

Despite these difficulties, many parents find deep fulfilment in advocating for their children. Successes, whether small or large, feel profoundly rewarding. Nevertheless, the need for accessible support systems, both emotional and practical, is critical. These systems can help mitigate the stress associated with balancing parenting and advocacy, ensuring that parents do not face these challenges alone.

Some research suggests that parents of children with SEN experience higher levels of stress and lower levels of well-being than parents of non-disabled children. During Carers Week in 2011, a report highlighted that 75% of carers, including parents with disabled children, experienced health issues due to their caring responsibilities. Of these, 76% had mental health problems, mainly depression, anxiety, and stress1.

Where is the source of stress coming from?

Parents advocating for their child may experience several stressors that usually arise from the inherent complexities and challenges of navigating educational and healthcare systems, and they can significantly affect a parent’s emotional and mental well-being. Here are some key sources of stress:

  1. Lack of Information and Resources: Many parents find it challenging to access clear, comprehensive information about their child’s rights and the services available. The complexity of educational and healthcare systems can be daunting, and the lack of straightforward, accessible information exacerbates the stress. Parents often have to become experts in legal and educational matters quickly, which can be overwhelming.
  2. Bureaucratic Hurdles: The process of securing appropriate services often involves navigating a maze of paperwork, deadlines, and bureaucratic procedures. These systems can be inflexible and slow to respond, forcing parents to repeatedly follow up and advocate for progress, which can be both time-consuming and frustrating.
  3. Resistance from Authorities: Encountering resistance from educational and healthcare professionals can be a significant source of stress. This resistance might include scepticism regarding the child’s needs, reluctance to provide necessary accommodations or disagreement over the best course of action. Such conflicts can force parents into continual advocacy roles, where they must argue and fight for their child’s needs to be acknowledged and met.
  4. Emotional and Psychological Toll: Advocating for a child requires emotional investment, and constant advocacy can lead to emotional fatigue. Parents may experience feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness, and sadness due to ongoing struggles with the system. The fear of not doing enough for their child can also contribute to anxiety and stress.
  5. Financial Strain: The costs associated with advocating for a child, including potential legal fees, assessments by specialists, and medical treatments not covered by insurance, can create financial pressure. For some families, one parent may need to reduce their work hours or even quit their job to manage their advocacy efforts, leading to further financial stress.
  6. Impact on Personal and Family Life: The demands of advocacy can strain personal relationships and family dynamics. Parents may have less time and energy for other children, partners, or themselves, leading to guilt and interpersonal conflicts. The continuous focus on advocacy can also isolate families from social activities and support networks.
  7. Long-Term Uncertainty: The stress of advocating for a child is not just a short-term challenge but a long-term journey. Parents often worry about their children’s future and whether they will receive enough support to succeed, which adds an ongoing layer of stress.

Statistics and Stats

Regarding statistics, data from the Department for Education indicates a consistent rise in the number of children and young people benefiting from EHC plans. As of January 2023, there were 517,026 EHC plans in place, up from 473,300 in 20224. The data indicates an increasing number of families are pursuing the process of obtaining an EHCP for their child.

Parent Experiences

Several case studies are available that shed light on the challenges faced by parents and carers of children with SEN. These real-life examples offer valuable insights into the experiences and difficulties they encounter while navigating the complex world of special educational needs. For example, the website EHCP Journeys provides a collection of family stories that take a closer look at children with different needs and their journeys through the EHC process3.

Undoubtedly, securing an EHCP for a child with SEN can profoundly affect the mental well-being of parents and carers. During this demanding journey, it becomes vital for parents to prioritise their own mental health and seek assistance if necessary. Embracing self-care and reaching out for support are crucial steps in navigating this challenging process successfully. There are organisations that provide free support and advice to parents and carers of children with SEN, such as Scope1,

Therapy designed specifically for Parents’ Stress and Anxiety challenges Navigating the SEN Process

The mental health of parents and carers is in my opinion overlooked in the process of obtaining support for a child with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The process of applying for an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) is stressful and time-consuming, and it can be difficult to navigate the system and understand the requirements.

This is why we have created bespoke 1-to-1 therapy specifically designed for parents just like you in the SEN Parent tsunami. Delivered by someone, just like you, who has been there, knee-deep in all the stages of the SEN process.

As a private practice, there is no association, links, or funding, with any Local Authority Councils.

How Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy Supports Parents in Finding Balance

CBH is specifically tailored to help parents find balance in their lives while navigating the complexities of raising a child with SEN and an EHCP. Through personalised sessions, CBH empowers parents with coping strategies and stress-management techniques, enabling them to face challenges with resilience and a positive outlook.

CBH helps parents:

  1. Manage Stress and Anxiety: CBH equips parents with relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms to reduce stress and anxiety levels during difficult moments.
  2. Foster Emotional Resilience: By working on the subconscious mind, CBH helps parents build emotional resilience, enabling them to handle both triumphs and setbacks with grace.
  3. Improve Sleep Quality: CBH addresses sleep-related issues caused by parental stress, allowing parents to rest better and wake up refreshed.
  4. Enhance Communication Skills: CBH can improve communication skills, enabling parents to effectively communicate with educators, therapists, and other professionals involved in their child’s care.
  5. Foster Positive Parent-Child Relationships: By promoting self-awareness and emotional well-being, CBH helps parents maintain positive and supportive relationships with their children.

FAQ Section: Understanding CBH Hypnotherapy, SEN, and EHCP

1. What is Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy? is a therapeutic approach that combines the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy. It aims to address negative thought patterns and behaviours while utilizing the relaxed and focused state of hypnosis.

2. How can CBH Hypnotherapy help parents of children with SEN? CBH Hypnotherapy provides parents with tools and strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges that arise from navigating the SEN process. It promotes emotional resilience, improved sleep quality, and better communication skills.

3. What does SEN stand for? SEN stands for Special Educational Needs. It refers to children who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn compared to most children of the same age.

4. How is an EHCP different from SEN? An EHCP, or Education, Health, and Care Plan, is a legal document that describes a child’s special educational needs and the extra help they should receive. While SEN identifies the need, EHCP is the plan of action to address those needs.

5. How long does the EHCP process take? The entire EHCP assessment and decision-making process, from the point of the initial request to the final EHCP being issued, should take no longer than 20 weeks in most cases.

6. Can CBH Hypnotherapy be done online? Yes, many practitioners offer CBH Hypnotherapy sessions online, allowing parents to access support from the comfort of their homes. It’s essential to ensure the therapist is qualified and experienced in online sessions.

7. Is CBH Hypnotherapy safe? Absolutely. CBH Hypnotherapy is a non-invasive and safe therapeutic approach. However, it’s crucial to work with a certified and experienced therapist to ensure the best outcomes.

8. How often should I attend CBH Hypnotherapy sessions? The frequency of sessions varies based on individual needs. Some parents benefit from weekly sessions, while others might attend fortnightly or monthly. Your therapist will work with you to determine the best schedule.

9. Are there any side effects to CBH Hypnotherapy? CBH Hypnotherapy is generally considered safe with minimal side effects. Some individuals might feel a bit disoriented immediately after a session, but this feeling typically subsides quickly. Always discuss any concerns with your therapist.

10. How can I start the EHCP process for my child? To start the EHCP process, you can request an assessment for your child through your local authority. It’s beneficial to gather evidence of your child’s needs, such as reports from teachers, doctors, or other professionals, to support your request.

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