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Worry Dolls:A Source of Comfort for Our Anxiety

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

In today’s blog we will explore ways in which adapting the Guatemalan tradition of making and using worry dolls can be effective in managing our anxieties and providing a source of comfort when we are experiencing heightened worry. It is important to note that what is being described in this blog post is how a traditional practice has inspired an art directive that can be adapted for therapeutic purposes. This blog post is not meant to provide authentic instruction or historical information regarding Guatemalan traditions in creating these worry dolls.

The idea behind adapting this ancient tradition into an art therapeutic directive is that by creating these worry dolls, individuals have an opportunity to create an object onto which they can externalize their worries and sorrows. Worry dolls in the traditional form may have been handmade and created with wool, wire and textiles. Their size would usually be no larger than 2 inches in height and often individuals would recite their worries to the dolls to hold onto and then place them under their pillows. We may not always have someone that we trust or feel safe with that we can share our fears and anxieties with, and the worry doll offers an alternative source of comfort through its personified companionship and portability.

One may choose to create a personal worry doll in an art therapy session. It can be helpful for children to have an object that they can carry around or have during different parts of their day- at school, in transition between households if they have divorced parents or non-traditional household arrangements, at night or in new situations. Adolescents may be interested in adapting the worry doll to their own needs- the worry doll may serve as a way to explore ambiguous parts of their identities or to assert parts of themselves that they are ashamed of, scared of showing or unsure about. Adults may be interested in creating a worry doll as a way to comfort their inner child, heal emotional trauma, or to externalize parts of themselves that they want to nurture or grow. The worry dolls could represent the persona of someone who is comforting in the individual’s life or could be an image of someone they see as capable, trustworthy, empowered and/or healing.

In an art therapy session, the focus is on creating a figure that is best representative of the individual’s needs. The types of materials used may vary depending on one’s needs and abilities. Consider fabrics and fabric scraps, yarns and strings, nature objects (sticks, rocks, dried flowers, pine needles), wire armature, pipe cleaners, embellishments (buttons, beads, clasps) and recycled materials (plastic bottles, newspapers, magazines, toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls). Processes may include wrapping, stitching, taping, gluing, folding, bending, cutting, tying or weaving.

If creating a worry doll seems intriguing, you may choose to work alongside an art therapist to create a worry doll and reflect on its meaning in your own life. It may be helpful to journal after you have created this object and consider its place in your life. For children, the worry doll may serve as an important transitional object, holding strong emotions, and providing a source of safety in points of transition, chaos and change. It can be scary and overwhelming to sit with emotions alone, and the worry doll provides a safe holding space for emotions to be shared.

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