The Art of Making Worry Dolls

Tracey Kirschner

“It is in the space between inner and outer world, which is also the space between people–the transitional space–that intimate relationships and creativity occur.”
-(D.W. Winnicott from Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,1951) 

 We spent the morning making worry dolls with the girls at transitions. Traditionally, worry doll’s are a Guatemalan talisman that is believed to have the power to hold our worries. They become a friend to hear and hold our concerns and fears.  For example, before bedtime, we might confide our worries in the worry dolls so that the doll can hold on to them for us so we don’t have to carry it all ourselves.   Many of the girls at Transitions have difficulty sleeping, a common symptom of trauma, so the activity seemed like an opportunity to offer source of self-created comfort.

I wanted to find an activity that would leave the girls feeling empowered by, and proud of their art.  It was important to tailor the activity so that an ambitious project could be seen to completion in one, two-hour session. This required a lot of preparation and foresight to help facilitate sustained engagement and a successful outcome. The fabric was pre cut in a doll shape and the books that were later attached were pre-bound.  In facilitating groups with limited time, it takes discernment on the part of the art therapist to know how to trim the steps of a lenthgly project.  Careful though is given to deciding which steps can be done by the facilitator, and which steps are important to the meaningful engagement of the participant.  What seemed like an effortless and smooth running group on the outside was carefully planned and timed with attention to the details. In this way the facilitators provide the scaffolding for success that further enhance creative engagement and confidence.

Setting the girls up for success has been of particular importance, as we have seen the girls at Transition struggle regarding self-esteem and their ability to complete a task.  In the beginning of our time at transitions, we asked the girls if they liked art, they said no “because we can’t draw.” I believe that using sewing as an art modality was a way to bridge the familiar with the unfamiliar.  All of the girls were proficient in sewing already and this project gave them an opportunity to apply their skills in a new and inspired way. Not only did the worry dolls leave the girls with a sense of accomplishment but it left them with a transitional object. One of the girls at Transitions stated earlier that, “every time I look at my doll, I am going to remember you guys and the art that you introduced us to.”

Art products can become transitional objects because they support a relationship with ones self while also encouraging A connection with the person who is facilitating the creative expression (Malchiodi, 2002).  The worry dolls became transitional objects that could visually and symbolically represent the members of the Naropa Community Art Studio – International when we are no longer in Cambodia.  The art activities we have mindfully chosen have been effective in creating the transitional space of relationship while working in an brief, art as therapy model in an international setting.

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