Seeking therapist in the U.S. to treat Boarding School Syndrome
January 15, 2017 11:19 AM   Subscribe

In the UK, a number of therapists recognize and treat Boarding School Syndrome, a cluster of mental health problems associated with having been sent to boarding school. Does anyone know of any therapists on this side of the Atlantic who practice in this area?

In the UK, there is a long tradition of sending children to boarding school, sometimes at very young ages. In recent years, mental health professionals and the media in the UK have recognized that children who attend boarding schools may experience various types of trauma that can cause lifelong problems.

In the US, there is also a tradition of sending children to boarding schools, aka prep schools. Yet Google searches for "boarding school survivors" produce only hits from the UK, suggesting that the concept of the Boarding School Syndrome has not yet taken root in the US.

However, my own experiences at a New England prep school in the 1970s tell me that there should be at least some adult survivors of boarding school trauma with unresolved mental health issues arising from their years in prep school.

Are any therapists in the US treating psychological problems specifically related to having been raised in a boarding school?

If not, what types of therapy would be best suited to treating the consequences of bullying, abandonment and emotional neglect in boarding school?
posted by A. Davey to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Emotional and physical trauma, regardless of the circumstances, is generally treated in this country with CBT (or DBT) plus sometimes EMDR, medication, CBT-based techniques for lessening the impacts of phobias or obsessions, and sometimes some family-therapy-type roleplaying/replaying or addressing-the-younger-self type exercises. Any trained certified therapist that isn't practicing one of the increasingly esoteric old disciplines (Freudian, Jungian, skeevy chiro-hypno-mumbo-jumbo etc) is probably going to be pretty CBT-centric, but you could certainly look for one who advertises an emphasis in adults and trauma (as opposed to family/marriage, child psychology, learning disorders etc).

What you describe in the UK sounds a lot like clever marketing to the people with disposable income. Abuse is largely abuse, abusers largely use the same methods regardless of the environment, and any competent therapist is going to be cognitive of the primary issues of living away from home during childhood. They may not be able to bond with you over the details, but the point isn't really to reminisce anyway.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would probably look for someone who specializes in PTSD.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:35 AM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah I'd be looking up people who work with complex PTSD. I don't think "boarding school syndrome" is marketing at all; it seems like a useful set of concepts and common experiences that can provide you with a language to help describe your own experiences. But no, I don't think it's common here.

If you find a trauma specialist, feel free to ask them to read books about boarding school syndrome. That is probably how I would deal with this.

I'm sorry for what you're going through, but it can get better -- good luck.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:49 AM on January 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

I also came in to suggest finding a therapist whose area is CPTSD.
posted by wintersweet at 11:50 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

CPTSD, for sure.

The US and UK "boarding school" experiences aren't strictly equivalent. Most US boarding schools only offer boarding to children in ninth grade and up, rather than beginning at "Harry, yer a wizard!" age. Further, while there has been and still is abuse at the US schools, the older UK public schools have a weird and horrifying tradition of adult formalization and enforcement of childhood power imbalances which produced/s godawful results. Not to mention the problems posed by single-sex institutions. So it's not surprising that it's a concept that has more purchase in the UK.
posted by praemunire at 1:21 PM on January 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

CPTSD and it might be worthwhile to seek recommendations from therapists who treat child/adolescent victims of bullying or abuse by authority figures (there being many who specialize in this, easier to find than those who treat adults).
posted by notquitemaryann at 2:06 PM on January 15, 2017

To start, I'd look for a therapist who knows attachment theory.
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 3:51 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a clinical psychologist specializing in PTSD* research and treatment, but am not your clinical psychologist. The kinds of therapists that will do a gold-standard, manualized treatment** for PTSD, which includes Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure as first-line treatments, will not specialize in Boarding School Syndrome, because that is not a recognized condition in the US. These therapists are using the very best research evidence we have to choose the treatment that is most likely to work in an efficient manner for a given client. I would be very concerned that someone who said that they specialized in Boarding School Syndrome was not operating from an evidence-based perspective and is doing an untested treatment. Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure work very well regardless of the nature of the trauma, because they are totally flexible to the way that a particular trauma affects a given person's thoughts and behaviors. All this said, no one here, psychologist or not, would be able to diagnose you with PTSD over the internet , and it's very important to get an in-depth diagnostic interview from a psychologist or psychiatrist to help you make decisions about next steps.

*It's surprising to me that so many people have said you have CPTSD. Aside from the fact that it's coming from nonprofessionals on the internet who know very little about your symptoms, CPTSD is not a diagnosable condition and the syndrome characterized as CPTSD responds well to the same kinds of treatments that PTSD does, so there's no reason to think you have it or that you need to seek special treatment for it.
**DBT is a treatment for borderline personality disorder, not PTSD, although some therapists do incorporate DBT skills when they're doing a non-manualized treatment. I have explained previously why I do not recommend EMDR as a first-line treatment for PTSD.

posted by quiet coyote at 8:15 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another diagnosis specific to the problems caused by childhood abandonment and neglect (as opposed to those caused by bullying or other more active abuse) is Reactive Attachment Disorder.
posted by contraption at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2017

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