Book Book

The Making of Them: The British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 31 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:803
  1. Petruska Clarkson, consultant philosopher psychologist psychotherapist
  1. London

    Nick Duffell

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    Lone Arrow Press, £20, pp 318

    ISBN 0 9537904 0 1

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    Sending one's children to boarding school has often been perceived as a mark of privilege and the best preparation for high office or worldly success, particularly in Britain. Despite some amelioration of this widely perceived notion in recent years, it is still prevalent.

    Although there are distinct benefits to those graduating from our public school system, the psychological costs—and their physical, relational, and social concomitants—are rarely acknowledged. Nick Duffell argues from his research and specialised psychotherapy practice that this silence about one's own personal suffering is part of the legacy of what he calls being a “boarding school survivor.”

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    The public school: a place of privilege or persecution?

    Therefore, adults who had been sent away—particularly at an early age—to boarding school from their family homes often learnt (or “were conditioned”) both to endure unacceptably brutal interpersonal practices such as humiliation, sexual violation, and bullying and to keep silent about them.

    When these kinds of trauma emerge in adulthood in the form of stress related disease, inability to sustain meaningful intimate sexual relationships, and mental and emotional breakdowns, adults often don't even know how to begin to acknowledge their long-hidden pain to themselves—let alone talk to someone else (such as their medical practitioner) about their suffering.

    This, as we know from the psychological research evidence, often leads to further psychosomatic difficulties in terms of overworking to the point of burnout, multiple serious health problems, and drug and alcohol misuse. Considering that such men (it is usually men who are debilitated in their life's functioning in this way) are often in positions of power and responsibility, the psychological damage has serious and pervasive consequences for the functioning of our society as a whole.

    Duffell, who shares both his personal experiences and his professional expertise in this area, suggests that the most important first step in dealing with the negative psychosomatic fallout in adults of their having been sent away to boarding school as children is acknowledging that this problem exists.

    For anyone personally or professionally involved with this issue, this book is a worthy and valuable aid in controlling the problem, not only by analysing its psychological components but also by pointing out ways to manage them. It is well written, personally direct, and based on extensive study of the hundreds of “boarding school survivors” with whom Duffell and his collaborators have worked over some 10 years. I can highly recommend it for medical practitioners.

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