Review in Contemporary Psychotherapy
Review in Contemporary Psychotherapy Volume 7 No 2 Winter 2015:
Book REVIEW: Boarding School Syndrome
The psychological trauma of the ‘privileged’ child
Reviewer Nicholas Houghton
When I was asked to review this book, my first thought was: these ex-public school pupils not only have privilege, wealth and power, now we’re supposed to feel sorry for them as well. However, as Joy Schaverien explains, not all children attending boarding school are of this ilk. For example they may be the offspring of those in the armed or diplomatic services who were posted overseas and moved from country to country every few years. Nor, it might be added, are all boarding schools leading public schools. Nor are they all British (the focus of this book); although their prevalence in British culture makes this book especially relevant to readers from the UK, those from other countries might read with something close to incredulity how those with money choose to have their children educated. Meanwhile, the British might have been so close to the phenomenon not to have fully appreciated the horror of what was happening. In this excellent book a convincing case is given for the harmful effects of being sent to any boarding school, resulting in what Schaverien has identified as ‘boarding school syndrome’.
The main component of boarding school syndrome is the trauma children experience when they are sent off to board, especially the first time. For a child of 7 or 8 the pain of separation can be very severe but nor should the trauma of those who begin boarding at 13 be underestimated. We learn that for some being left in this strange – and often hostile – environment is etched on their memory in vivid detail, while others have completely repressed the experience and can’t remember this significant event at all – although they can remember going home at the end of a term. Schaverien likens this trauma to a bereavement, as the child mourns their previous, family life at home. Now separated from significant figures (their mother in particular) they have to adjust to a life with – at best – no love or appropriate physical contact and at worst the addition of vicious bullying and abuse. Discussion of this part is informed by judicious use of John Bowlby’s theories of separation.
Captivity is another element of the syndrome, with children subject to something akin to a prison routine…
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