The Big Tree Therapeutic Dolls
The Big Tree Therapeutic Dolls
The Australian Childhood Foundation has designed an innovative range of therapeutic dolls that are based on “neuro-metaphor” – a new modality for working with traumatised children in any context.
As the trauma field has matured, there has been increasing interest in the use of practical applications to support the recovery of children and young people from experiences of violation and severe relational disruption.
Over the past five years, we have created and trialled a new type of tool that is a world first. It introduces the new therapeutic modality of neuro-metaphor. This approach intentionally integrates sensory, emotional and cognitive approaches to trauma resolution for children and young people. It recruits children’s imagination to playfully engage with stories involving characters that metaphorically represent the themes that are present in their own lives. As they tell and retell these stories, different plot lines emerge that children can interact with through language and experience through their implicit sensory based memory systems.
The new tool
The new tool is a set of four colourful, texturally rich therapeutic dolls who live within and around the branches of a creative narrative landscape defined by a Big Tree. Each of the characters represent pivotal themes that children engage with in the therapeutic process including,
- identity configuration,
- emotional expression and affect regulation,
- nurture and nourishment,
- being heard and finding a voice,
- worry and calm,
- transformation and adaptability.
Four characters with healing purpose
Each character has specific themes of experience and healing integrated into their design; including identity, emotion, nurture, sensation awareness, calm and relaxation, containment and transformation. Morton the monster supports children to explore their identity, Ollie the monkey encourages exploration of nurturing through feeding, Susan the Kitten is designed to help children feel calm, and Ellen the caterpillar represents themes of transformation and containment.
The design of each doll has been organised and informed by a multi-disciplinary approach to the knowledge of how trauma impacts upon children. Our own experience has shown that sensory information can play a vital role in understanding and responding to experiences of trauma.
The weighted filling of each of the dolls enables them to take on the contours of the individual holding them, making them fit snuggly into the arms of a child. This experience offers a sense of tactile containment and security similar to the comfort of warm deep pressure touch. This relaxing and calming experience is vital for children when they feel distressed.
Morton the Monster
Morton has been designed to introduce the child to a discovery of ideas central to their identity. The many facial features that can be attached to the monster encourage children to explore who they are, who they want to be, and qualities of themselves they are proud of. The features also reflect different emotions, enabling a child to engage with narratives that lead to the discovery of different feelings, their meaning and experiences these relate to. This doll is constructed with multiple textures including the difference between the corduroy and soft fur being an interesting sensory contrast. The features of the doll are tucked away into a pocket on the back of the doll, giving the child a choice as to whether to store or use them. Morton is a fun, colourful representation of whoever a child wants to be.
Ollie the Monkey
Ollie encourages children to experience and express nurture. He has a zip for a mouth, as well as many colourful and textured pieces of food. Stories of favourite food, meals and care can be discussed with children and carers/parents to explore narratives about being taken care of and relational primacy. The sensory elements of each food item can also be explored, again enhancing a child's awareness in this area. Ollie is made from a very soft velvet material which is consistent with the general theme of love and care, which is reinforced with his long arms that can wrap around the child.
Susan the Kitten
Central to Susan’s focus are experiences of calm and restoration. She has been designed for children to hold and identify images and stories that help them to feel grounded and safe. A textured storybook with images that a child can choose from is developed and then can be held safely in the head of Susan. As a metaphor, this can represent a set of dreams that can be taken to bed, beautiful imaginings and hopes that can become real. The eyes can be closed by the child as they take their doll and their dreams to bed. The cat is made from soft textures and colours that represent a soft warm pair of pyjamas.
Ellen the Caterpillar
Ellen brings to life the themes of transformation and change. From a plainly featured soft plump caterpillar doll emerges a butterfly with a pair of beautifully decorated wings that are tucked inside a pocket on the back of the doll. These wings are colourful and textured in multiple ways. The story of transformation is clear and identifiable for children to relate to in their own world. When the wings are out, they surround Ellen’s body in a holding and containing way, again encouraging this sense of physical comfort for a child.
Upcoming training in using these Therapeutic Dolls
We are offering workshops that explore how this set of therapeutic tools are used with children and families, including an exploration of their capacity to promote sensory engagement. The dolls all have colour, sound and texture built into them.
What can you expect from attending this workshop?
Workshops include hands-on demonstration and exploration where valuable insight into the richness of meaning-making strategies that children and their carers/families can engage in when relationships have fun, respect and imagination restored to them.
The cost of the workshop includes the purchase of Morten the Monster. It also includes a comprehensive manual about how to use the tools with children and/or parents/carers.
Participants will be able to use the ‘Morton the Monster’ doll immediately in their practice. The three other dolls are available for purchase only to those who have attended the workshop.
The number of registrations for each workshop is strictly limited. Make sure you register now to avoid disappointment.
The Therapeutic Dolls cannot be purchased unless you have attended the training. The cost of each doll is $66 (GST Inclusive). Sales of the additional dolls will be organised on and after the training day.
Please note that we can deliver training about the therapeutic dolls to whole of organisations or teams of practitioners at your workplace. To find out about these customised learning opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Speaker Webinar Series – Attachment, Trauma and Healing
As part of our professional learning community, we are giving you access to our International Speaker Series Webinars at no cost to you. With your workshop registration, you will automatically be signed up for the next two webinars in the series. You will receive all the details in the receipt email.