Mental health challenges for parents of SEN children

The term 'special education needs' (SEN) refers to the unique educational requirements of children who face challenges in their educational journey that differ from those of their peers. There are several factors that can contribute to these challenges, including cognitive, behavioural, emotional, physical, or sensory impairments. It is important to recognise that some children require a tailored approach to education, one that addresses their individual needs and ensures they receive the appropriate support to thrive academically.


The demand for special education provisions

In the UK, the scale of SEN is significant. The latest statistics indicate that approximately 15% of all pupils in the country have some form of identified special educational need. This translates into over a million children, each with their own unique challenges and needs. The special educational needs (SEN) framework in the UK is designed to meet the needs of these children, whether through tailored educational programs, specialised schools, or additional resources.

What does the law say?

To determine whether children need supplementary assistance in their educational journey, local authorities in the United Kingdom conduct a comprehensive needs assessment. Upon determining that a child fits the stipulated criteria, it becomes the responsibility of the local authority to formulate an education, health and care plan (EHCP) for that child. This EHCP serves as a structured blueprint, detailing the specific support the child requires, ensuring they receive an education tailored to their unique needs.

What is there not to like?

A closer examination of the SEN system reveals some harsh truths. In spite of its noble intentions, the reality is that it is an underfunded mechanism that is struggling to meet the demands placed on it. Parents and caregivers, already grappling with the challenges of supporting their children, are often met with bureaucratic roadblocks that seem insurmountable. The irony is palpable: while funds for essential services and support are scarce, there appears to be a seemingly endless reservoir for challenging parents through litigation. This juxtaposition paints a grim picture of a system that, instead of being a beacon of support, sometimes becomes yet another hurdle for families to overcome.

The child at the heart of the system

SEN places the child's needs and well-being at the centre of the process. The parents and guardians are embracing this perspective and steadfastly holding onto it, come rain or shine. In contrast, the senior partner (local authority) in the process, often adopts a more, shall we say, budget-conscious stance, with the oxymoron approach, of pursuing this strategy at any cost.

This dichotomy frequently results in a tug-of-war, with the child caught in the middle and both parties seemingly pulled from opposite ends of an extensive long table. The parents remain at one end of the table, day on day, week on week, year on year, while the other end of the table is occupied by a revolving door of resources. Despite each day bringing what seems like someone else representing the local authority, which surely must give the idea that all these actors are working off the same prescribed hymn sheet, it doesn't quell the need for the local authority to be known as 'they'.

Often, parents and caregivers are forced to litigate to ensure that their child receives an adequate education when one side feels the finite time of their child's education is slipping away, while the other side appears to be meeting no known deadlines, thus creating a difficult situation. 

The mental and emotional well-being of parents is therefore best described as a constant 'pressure' of just about surviving sometimes, as we understand from our basic understanding of stress. Chronic stress occurs when the body's stress response is continuously activated over an extended period of time without adequate recovery or relief.

Parental well-being and its importance

For the survival of the family unit, the well-being of the parents is paramount. Not only for their own health but also for the holistic development of their child, other children at home, extended families, friends, careers, and future hopes and aspirations. 

The consequences of burnout

A state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion can result from continual stress without relief. Parents of children with special needs who experience burnout are less likely to advocate for their children, have diminished patience, and are less able to cope with the challenges they face on a daily basis. This can have a negative impact both on their health and on the quality of care and support they can provide to their children. 

Parental well-being and child's development

Parental mental and emotional health has a significant impact on the development of a child. A child is intuitive and can pick up on parental stress, which can negatively affect their own emotional well-being and academic performance. Conversely, parents who are mentally and emotionally healthy can provide a more supportive and nurturing environment for their children, resulting in better outcomes. Stress may lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety if chronic stress is not addressed.

Chronic stress impact

Living with chronic stress affects every facet of life. When sustained long enough, it can lead to physical health issues, such as weakened immune systems, high blood pressure, and even heart disease. Chronic stress can affect the ability to think clearly, make informed decisions, and regulate emotions on a psychological level. 

Therapeutic interventions for parents in the SEN maze

The challenges faced by parents navigating the SEN landscape are multifaceted, often requiring resilience across a broad range of encounters with a combination of emotional, informational, and practical support. Addressing these needs holistically can pave the way for a more balanced and effective approach to both their child's education and their own well-being.

Individual therapy

Personalised therapy sessions can be a beacon for parents feeling overwhelmed or isolated. Through individual therapy, parents can gain emotional support, learn coping strategies, and develop resilience. CBH (cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy) can be particularly effective here, offering tools and techniques to manage stress, combat negative thought patterns, and enhance emotional well-being.

Support groups

The journey through the SEN system is unique, but many challenges are shared. Support groups offer a platform for parents to connect, share experiences, and offer mutual support. CBH can play a role here too, with trained professionals facilitating group sessions to ensure productive and supportive discussions.

Does therapy empower or simply support?

Therapy, especially cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy (CBH), goes beyond mere support. It equips individuals with the tools and strategies they need to navigate life's challenges and actively work towards their goals. The outcome of CBH is not just about alleviating immediate concerns but fostering a mindset that's resilient, proactive, and adaptive.

Having journeyed through the complexities of the SEN process myself, I've developed a deep-rooted passion for SEN, autism, and ADHD, and helping others in the maze. At Bohangar City Practice, I've worked to craft a specialised focus to assist parents, guardians, and extended family members who might feel burdened by the ongoing challenges of the SEN system and its effects on their mental well-being.

My unique vantage point, born from personal experience and complemented by my professional proficiency in CBH, guarantees a therapeutic approach that is both compassionate and impactful. This blend of personal insight and expertise sets the foundation for meaningful change.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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City of London EC2R & Bromley BR1
Written by Christopher Higgins, Cognitive Behaviour Hypnotherapy: MNCH(REG)
City of London EC2R & Bromley BR1

The author founded the Bohangar City Practice and is a CBH therapist, and a former banking analyst, with firsthand experience navigating the SEN system. The author possesses a deep passion for SEN, Autism, and ADHD, creating resources at:

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