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These abstract therapy dolls help kids recover from trauma

Why faceless wooden dolls work best to get kids out of their shells.

The winner of this year’s Kids Design Award developed a set of toys that’s meant for more than just fun. Alma – Therapy Dolls, designed by Yaara Nusboim, are a set of abstract dolls made from maplewood and flexible polyurethane for use during play therapy, a psychoanalytic method often used with children.

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[Photo: courtesy Yaara Nusboim]
Nusboim, who had previously worked in a boarding school for at risk-children, worked in collaboration with seven psychologists over the course of a year to develop the toys, which are meant to help children express a range of emotions that may come up during therapy, including fear, pain, emptiness, love, anger, and safety. The design objective was to “facilitate a child’s connection to his inner world and promote healing,” Nusboim says in an email to Fast Company.

[Photo: courtesy Yaara Nusboim]
Nusboim learned through consultation with practicing therapists that a toy designed for therapy should be interesting in its own right, so a child will want to play with it, but in order for it to be effective as a therapeutic tool, it also needs to be as abstract as possible. This allows the child to “project his or her own story onto it with the aid of imagination.”

[Photo: courtesy Yaara Nusboim]
In order to accomplish both, Nusboim used a variety of materials, colors, shapes, and textures to create visual interest without association. For instance, the “anger” doll is a squat cylindrical shape, with spiky pieces of polyurethane protruding from the body, according to Dezeen.

Overall, the maplewood base is meant to convey “a feeling of warmth, tranquility, safety, as well as providing a pleasant and smooth surface to the touch,” says Nusboim. “Through their shape and texture, the flexible materials represent the child’s inner urges. Additionally, the combination of the two main materials is designed to represent a balance between positive and negative experiences.”

[Photo: courtesy Yaara Nusboim]
Play therapy has been around for some time now. According to the American Counseling Association, the first recorded use of play in therapy occurred in 1905 when Sigmund Freud worked with a boy he called “Little Hans,” who had developed a phobia of horses. Freud’s student, Melanie Klein, introduced her own play therapy methods for children in the 1930s, and hypothesized that it was the vehicle through which to bring the unconscious to the conscious. “This method suggests that children are capable of healing themselves—they just need the right conditions for it,” says Nusboim.

Nusboim hopes that the product will soon be on the market and “that it can really help and be effective [for] children around the world.” As of now, the toys have secured accolades for connecting kids with a much smaller world—their own.

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