• Psychoanalyst Joy Schaverien coined the term Boarding School Syndrome

  • In this interview with Alice McGurran, she describes what this means and how it shapes individuals and societies

  • We have therapists who specialise in Boarding School Syndrome – find them here

Psychoanalyst Joy Schaverien was the first to coin the term Boarding School Syndrome, after patterns of behaviours and difficulties in her clients – and those of her colleagues – were found to be connected by one commonality: going to boarding school as a child.

Schaverien describes the ABCD's of Boarding School Syndrome as:

  • Abandonment: the child has been left with strangers
  • Bereavement: more than just homesickness, the child is bereaved
  • Captivity: the child is captive in their new environment, often having to follow strict rules
  • Dissociation: when the child is unable to come to terms with the pain of their bereavement, they often cut off and dissociate from their feelings

"Quite often people come to me in midlife – their marriage has gone wrong, or there's an unspecific depression or anxiety, or sudden dark moods that come over them. Or the couple comes to therapy and he – usually he – cannot express his feelings. But they don't realise that boarding school is the problem," explains Schaverien. 

And what can therapy do for someone, when these experiences were in the past? "Absolutely therapy can help. Boarding School Syndrome is serious; this isn't just you. People often come to therapy when their child is the age they were when they went to boarding school. They look at their child and think: was I really that little?"

"It's not going to go away, it's part of your story, but if it can become part of your narrative, rather than just having this tangled mess inside you – that can help."

Watch our interview with Joy Schaverien, author of Boarding School Syndrome: The psychological trauma of the 'privileged' child

Further reading

The perfect emotional storm: surviving boarding school

The hidden pain of my boarding school childhood

How the trauma of boarding school shaped me

Politics, psychotherapy and boarding school