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'Boarding School Syndrome'

‘Boarding school syndrome’ is not a medical diagnosis but a term suggested by Joy Schaverien (2016) to describe the negative impact, for some, of boarding. Living away from home from an early age can significantly affect a person’s psychological and emotional development.

More Information


Living away from home, and one’s family causes a child to become independent prematurely. Prolonged separation from one’s home and family can be very stressful, and whilst most boarders learn to live with it, and many enjoy it, this wound can remain. Boarders experience the common challenges of school such as bullying, friendship issues and learning difficulties but without the refuge of home at the end of the day, or attachment figures to help navigate them. Some have even experienced abuse.


Common coping strategies reported by boarders include bottling up feelings and cutting off from them so they can survive the boarding school environment. In later life this can mean that they struggle to recognise and prioritise their own feelings or needs. They may also be very independent and not seek out support from others at difficult times of their lives. Ex-boarders also describe strong fears of loss and abandonment and difficulties trusting others.

Mixed Feelings

Boarding is not a universally damaging experience. People talk about learning important life skills such as fitting in, compromise and living with different people. Boarding can be enjoyable and, for some, far preferable to living at home. Boarding will have an impact whether positive, negative or mixed – it is rarely something about which people feel neutral.

Image by Ivan Aleksic

Why see me?

I have a particular interest in this field – as a boarder myself in the 1980’s I have lived experience of boarding school life and how it can shape us as people. Clients particularly seem to appreciate talking with someone who understands boarding culture – it’s an unusual type of experience (only 1% of the population board) that is hard to understand if you have not experienced it.

How Can I Help?

People come to me to discuss the impact that boarding has had on their relationships and self-esteem. Clients report appreciating the space to make links between their early lives and their current problems. Some have also benefited from EMDR to process painful memories. As a clinical psychologist with particular expertise in adult mental health I use a range of methods to help people heal and live more rewarding lives.

Further Reading

Research looking at the effects of boarding is still relatively sparse. Some of the key authors are: Penny Cavanagh, Nick Duffell, Mark Stibbe, Joy Schaverien. Some websites of interest are:

Brighton Therapy Partnership

Boarding School Survivors

Joy Schaverien

"But wasn’t I privileged to go to boarding school?"

Much has been written about the sense of being ‘fortunate’ to have a boarding school education. It may well have helped you become outwardly successful, you may have had a lot of opportunities you would not otherwise have had. You may even have enjoyed elements of boarding school life! However, you may have paid a very real, hidden price for this with your emotional and psychological needs not being met at a formative stage of development. Nowadays we have a much greater understanding of attachment theory and its importance for humans; attachment bonds are clearly disrupted by boarding.

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