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Alma – Therapy Dolls – Winner for the year 2020 in product design

Design architecture: Yaara Nusboim (industrial designer, Shenkar College of Engineering and Design)

Photos credits: Ahikam Ben Yosef

Video: Eitan Mottahedehc


The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein was the first to recognize the importance of play in child therapy. She understood that play provides an insight into the unconscious of the child’s soul and thus she developed the Play Therapy method. This method suggests that children are capable healing themselves, they just need the right conditions for it. Alma Therapy Dolls is a series of toys designed for children who are dealing with emotional problems and these toys are meant to be part of the therapeutic process. Many children deal with emotional problems as a result of neglect, lack of love and warmth, as well as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. During my research into this subject matter, I was surprised to learn that to this day, very generic toys are being used for treatment, even though the therapist’s and the patient’s needs are very different from what is being provided by regular toys. This was my motivation for the project: to design special toys that are tailor-made for the treatment of children who are dealing with emotional problems, so it would be easier for them to connect to their inner world and heal their soul. The project was done in collaboration with child psychologists and therapists, and the dolls shape and design is based on what I have learned from them about children’s emotional problems. The dolls were selected to portray the range of emotions arising during the therapy session, such as: fear, pain, emptiness, love, anger, and safety. A toy that is designated for therapy should be diverse and attractive, so that the child would want to play with it on the one hand. But on the other hand, the toy should be as abstract as possible, so the child can project on it his own story, using his imagination. The design questions I asked were: how to design emotions? And what makes a shape into a figure? Most of my work was to find the appropriate shape for each emotion and the correct balance between figurative art and shape abstraction. Since an important aspect during therapy is touching and feeling, the materials from which the dolls were made are maple wood and flexible polyurethane. Inspired by Klein’s Object Relations theory, I decided to express the child’s various standpoints through the materials I used. The wood conveys a feeling of warmth, tranquility, safety, as well as providing a pleasant and smooth surface to the touch. Through their shape and texture, the flexible materials represent the child’s inner urges. The combination of the two materials is designed to give a balance between the positive experiences and the negative ones. In this way, the child can choose which component he wants to pay attention to, whether it is each component separately, or both components together. Moreover, this combination of materials can help the child understand that he too, like the dolls, is composed of positive and negative experiences and that there is nothing wrong with that. The dolls are open for various interpretations and each child can pour into the doll his emotions, based on his own background and feelings.