Author Interview – Joy Schaverien, author of 'Boarding School Syndrome'

Boarding School Syndrome has quickly become a Routledge bestseller for 2015. We caught up with the author, Joy Schaverien for a quick Q&A.

Boarding School Syndrome is an analysis of the trauma of the ‘privileged’ child sent to boarding school at a young age. Written by Joy Schaverien, and published by Routledge in June this year, Boarding School Syndrome has been critically acclaimed and widely covered in the media; and has quickly become a Routledge bestseller for 2015.

We caught up with the author, Joy Schaverien for a quick Q&A.

Congratulations on the publication of Boarding School Syndrome! Why did you decide to write it?

In British Society we take for granted that a proportion of children attend boarding schools but rarely do we notice the tremendous heartbreak associated with it. Like children taken into care of the local authority, those in boarding school suffer the loss of all that is familiar; the difference is that their parents pay for the ‘privilege’.

A high percentage of my patients had been to boarding school. It was similar with those of my colleagues and yet it was rare that this was identified as a major cause of the presenting problem in adults seeking psychotherapy. Ex-boarders commonly present generalised depression, relationship breakdown, and problems with intimacy or with parenting their children. In psychotherapy it is not always immediately evident that the origins of this unhappiness may be traced to the traumatic early separation from home and loved ones when they were sent to boarding school. This form of enduring wounding needed to be considered in a new way and the deeper I inquired into it the more facets emerged.

Can you describe your book in one sentence?

It is a detailed analysis of the enduring psychological impact of boarding schools on adults who, as children, grew up in them.

What first attracted you to this topic as an area of study?

It was my clinical practice as a psychotherapist that led me to observe that a number of my clients and those of my colleagues were troubled by their experiences of being sent to boarding school at 7 or 8 years of age. When I asked my clients if they remembered their first day at boarding school I was at first surprised by the traumatic memories that that single question revealed. I noticed that the broken attachments cause a split in the personality between the armoured boarding school child (self) and the sensitive, vulnerable, home-child (self). I came to understand that the child suffered a significant bereavement. It also became clear that boarding school was a form of imprisonment. This analogy is not new: many ex-boarders have made this comment in passing and jokingly. I decided to consider this seriously and realised that it was just that; a prison, where children were held against their will until released on parole: the holidays.

What is the one thing you hope readers take away from your book?

There is not one but three main things; each for a slightly different readership:

ex-boarders, parents and teachers, and psychotherapists:

Ex-boarders: I would like adults, who as children attended prep boarding schools, to understand their own suffering. To realise that they are not alone, that others too were deeply upset by their experience in boarding schools.

Parents and teachers: I would like these adults to listen to present day children: To believe them when they say they are unhappy at boarding school and do not want to return after the holidays and when they say that a teacher is inappropriate or that an older child is frightening them. If parents or teachers take this seriously and act accordingly many children will be saved from abuse or a childhood of intimidation or fear.

I would like psychotherapy professionals to understand the potential depth of suffering that may lie behind the simple comment that the client attended boarding school.

Is there anything you would like to highlight about this topic or your book in particular?

Listen to children, believe them – they usually know what is best for them.

What is a common misconception about this topic that you would like to clear up?

People often consider that I am against all boarding schools; this is not the case. I do think early boarding (between 6 and 13) is not good for most children. However, there are cases when boarding is necessary and preferable to home life. Also, some older children do very well at boarding school but not all. Older children (of 15 or 16) are often able to make their preference known.

Your book includes vivid case studies of ex-boarders in psychotherapy. Which one would you say has gripped you particularly?

They all grip me and this led me to write about their experiences. The case study of ‘Theo’ was particularly compelling and it was a privilege to accompany him on this psychological journey. It took a lot of courage for him to confront his losses and the abuses he suffered and he could not do this alone and so, as a psychotherapist, it engaged me deeply. He depicted his traumatic history in his pictures, revealing the images to himself first and then to me. Despite all that he suffered in the school, the worst of all for him was the realisation that his mother could leave him. Even as a child he was incredulous that a mother could just leave her child; it was as if this was a taboo – he said ‘this just does not happen’. But of course for him and others like him it did.

Have you read any Routledge books? If so, which is your favourite Routledge book at the moment?

Yes, I have read a lot of Routledge books. It is always difficult to know what is a favourite. It would feel a bit misleading to pick out just one as this changes according to what I am currently reading. I read Jungian and art psychotherapy, as well as psychoanalytic literature, and Routledge is at the forefront of publishing in all these fields.

Do you have any events lined up?

Yes, I am speaking on the topic of Boarding School Syndrome on the following dates:

Other events will be published on my website: www.joyschaverien.com

We just published your book, what’s next in the pipeline for you?

I plan to further explore the topic of boarding schools and the impact of the separation on families (particularly mothers) and on sibling relationships. I am also planning a new book, The Interpretation of Pictures to be published by Routledge.

Featured Book

  • Boarding School Syndrome

    The psychological trauma of the 'privileged' child

    By Joy Schaverien

    Boarding School Syndrome is an analysis of the trauma of the 'privileged' child sent to boarding school at a young age. Innovative and challenging, Joy Schaverien offers a psychological analysis of the long-established British and colonial preparatory and public boarding school tradition. Richly…

    Paperback – 2015-06-09
    Routledge