Boarding school is a world of privilege but can also be traumatic and lead to issues as an adult 

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Updated Aug 3, 2022 by Dr. Sheri Jacobson Dr Sheri Jacobson

Boarding school survivors therapy in London

Attended boarding school as a child? And despite any outward successes, has your adult life been plagued with things like anxiety and depression, emotional numbness, addictions, or relating and intimacy issues? 

Boarding school and mental health  

Boarding school can be part of a privileged upbringing, and be the source of positive memories and experiences. Daring to then voice it has lead to personal issues can trigger guilt and embarrassment. 

But the reality is that being a boarder is also a traumatic experience for many, and you are far from alone in your struggles. It can be psychologically damaging to be separated at a young age from your family. This is not helped by an rigid environment you can't escape from that discourages emotions, takes away your privacy and freedom, and forces you to grow up far too quickly. Or even sees you the victim of bullying and abuse from fellow boarders or teachers. 

What is boarding school syndrome? 

Boarding school syndrome is not an official diagnosis, but is a useful term to describe a group of symptoms often seen in those who went to boarding school as a child. It generally involves struggles with relationships, identity, self-worth, and emotional literacy. 

Symptoms of boarding school trauma  

Symptoms mainly affect relationships. They can vary by individual but will form a consistent pattern, including things like:

  • appearing socially confident but can't let anyone close 
  • avoiding direct conflict but constantly feeling judged
  • having different personalities for different situations (e.g. work/home)
  • a constant sense of loneliness and disconnection
  • lack of self-awareness and sensitivity towards others
  • separation anxiety and trust issues 
  • fear of abandonment resulting in clinginess or being aloof
  • finding it hard to bond with your kids or always angry at them 
  • committment issues
  • having a reputation for being a bully. 

Other symptoms around self-esteem and identity can mean that you:

  • struggle to name your emotions or know what you want
  • need to be in control of things
  • struggle to relax and be at ease with yourself and your life 
  • fear failure and feel an imposter and a fraud
  • experience sadness, grief, and anger you can’t explain 
  • hide behind workaholism. 

Related mental health diagnoses 

Boarding school syndrome often comes hand-in-hand with other mental health issues such as addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sleep problems, and subtance abuse issues. A therapist who does not know about boarding school issues might overlook that a root cause of these other problems can be your time as a boarder.   

Do you offer counselling for boarding school issues near me? 

As well as our main therapy rooms on Harley Street we offer sessions at London Bridge, in the City of London, and online. Call us now for a confidential chat about how we can help you with boarding school issues, or book your first session now with our online booking form

Why me? 

When children are placed under extreme stress which they are unable to understand, such as being ripped from the family home at a young age and left in a rigid environment with strangers, a common coping response is to self-blame and bury their feelings. This can result in a child who on the exterior seems capable, but who inside suffers low self-esteem and a feeling they must perpetually be on guard.

Some children at boarding school will fall into overachieving to convince themselves they have the worth they no longer feel, others will do whatever it takes to conform and fit in, and still others rebel and can even become bullies.  And it's also common to develop different personalities, one for home and one for school. 

While this sort of 'survivor mentality' enable the child to cope, in the long-term it can result in psychological issues that carry into and heavily colour your adult life and relationships.  

How can talk therapy help with boarding school trauma? 

Benefits of counselling for boarding school syndrome can mean you:  

  • step out of the roles you learned to live in at school
  • recognise who you really are and what you truly want
  • develop self-compassion, self-awareness, empathy, and acceptance
  • become emotionally courageous and literate
  • allow more intimacy and connection with those around you
  • create a better work-life balance 
  • feel safe in the world and like you belong 
  • trust yourself and others more 
  • learn how to relax and enjoy life 
  • improve self-care and wellbeing.

Boarding school recovery at Harley TherapyTM London

Therapy for boarding school survivors creates a safe, non-judgemental space to access and release years of anger, sadness, and grief. Time to finally be yourself and thrive? Our therapists are all trained at top institutions and are known for their expertise and compassion, plus continually engage in professional development to ensure they can best serve their clients. 

Further resources

 

 

 

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Harley Therapy Ltd. “Boarding school syndrome counselling • Harley Therapy™”. Harley Therapy, 3 Aug. 2022, https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/boarding-school-trauma.htm. Accessed 10 Aug. 2022.

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Harley Therapy Ltd. "Boarding school syndrome counselling • Harley Therapy™." Last modified August 3, 2022. Accessed August 10, 2022. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/boarding-school-trauma.htm.

Online Therapy and Online Counselling

Therapy for boarding school trauma can help with:

  • anger issues
  • anxiety and depression 
  • attachment issues
  • being a bully
  • a need for control 
  • counterdependency
  • fear of rejection and abandonment  
  • grief and sadness
  • low self-esteem 
  • parenting problems
  • relationship struggles
  • sexual abuse at school
  • sex and intimacy issues 
  • trust and intimacy problems
  • workaholism.
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