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Keywords:

  • attachment;
  • boarding school syndrome;
  • child development;
  • trauma;
  • loss;
  • prep schools;
  • public schools;
  • psychotherapy;
  • transference

abstract

The aim of this paper is to identify a cluster of symptoms and behaviours, which I am proposing be classified as ‘Boarding School Syndrome’. These patterns are observable in many of the adult patients, with a history of early boarding, who come to psychotherapy. Children sent away to school at an early age suffer the sudden and often irrevocable loss of their primary attachments; for many this constitutes a significant trauma. Bullying and sexual abuse, by staff or other children, may follow and so new attachment figures may become unsafe. In order to adapt to the system, a defensive and protective encapsulation of the self may be acquired; the true identity of the person then remains hidden. This pattern distorts intimate relationships and may continue into adult life. The significance of this may go unnoticed in psychotherapy. It is proposed that one reason for this may be that the transference and, especially the breaks in psychotherapy, replay, for the patient, the childhood experience between school and home. Observations from clinical practice are substantiated by published testimonies, including those from established psychoanalysts who were themselves early boarders.