Boarding School Syndrome

“I fell into conversation with a Frenchman I sat next to last night at dinner, and I just couldn’t resist getting onto education, because the French have such different views on education – they cannot understand how we can possibly do what we do – how we can bear to send our children away: they should be coming in to us every night and talking to us every night, how we mustn’t lose touch with them, and how vital it is to see them every day. I totally disagree – I think it is the making of them, this sending them away. And you know, I can see what happens, I can see them every 3 weeks – it’s not a drama, really.”

 – A mother of one of the 8 year old new boarders talking to camera in Colin Luke’s 1994 film The Making of Them

The quote above is an example of the particular attitude the British have to boarding. The idea that it breeds independence, leadership and strength is in many ways true but it can be at a high cost. Nick Duffel (who has been researching and writing on this subject for many years and runs the training on how to work with Boarding School Survivors that I trained on and am on the register of recognised therapists) describes this as Boarding School Syndrome. An adaptive strategy to deal with the trauma of being separated from parents at a crucial time of development, and being placed in an environment that is very different to home and where nobody loves you. The impact can be far reaching and particularly shows itself when it comes to forming intimate relationships in adulthood. I am often contacted by partners of ex boarding school children, at their wits end because they can’t connect with their partner as they have no idea, or desire to open up emotionally and risk vulnerability. Or I am contacted by ex- boarders who are at a loss as to how to save their relationship or stay in one.

It is a hard topic to talk about, as it is steeped in perceived privilege and parents have very often had to make sacrifices to afford the fees in the belief that they were doing the best they could for their child. The offer of this work is to provide a space to explore the experiences of the boarder, the impact on them now and work towards moving from surviving to living. It is difficult work as this client group are often adept at covering emotions with a cheery, competent, confident exterior and to get beneath the surface to the self in distress is delicate work. I have a particular interest in this work as I wrote my Thesis for my Master’s Degree on Boarding School Syndrome and have trained at depth in this area. If you are reading this and resonating with what I am saying, get in touch. Let’s start the conversation.