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What is the name of practice/method (if such exists) where psychologist uses a doll (or any other form of human-being representation) for patient to talk to?

I believe I have seen it in a movie or had read in a book (not exactly sure)

My guess would be that it could be used for patients that feel more comfortable talking to not alive objects that have human form or that portrait a human-being but that cannot respond (subconscious security for a patient that an object will not be judgmental towards patients issues or something like that..)

P.S. If such practice/method exists, which implications it has for the patient?



Movie: What about Bob?

forward to 1:40


What I found:

"Puppets allow a child to displace feelings from the significant persons with whom they were originally connected. In doing so, puppets offer physical and psychological safety that, in turn, invites greater self expression."

Source: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01875812#page-1

Thanks to caseyr547 for Play therapy term

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Could you please edit your title to be more reflective of the body of your question? "Psychological practice" is an extremely vague title, while the body of your post is solid. –  Artem Kaznatcheev Jan 13 '14 at 16:40
@ArtemKaznatcheev hope edited title reflects my inquiry –  Mocialov Boris Jan 13 '14 at 16:49

3 Answers 3

up vote -1 down vote accepted

The only psychotherapy I know of which uses dolls is Play therapy. In play therapy a series of toys are used to help a child (up to age 11) resolve problems and think healthy. Play may be directed by an adult or undirected.

Play therapy is a form of counseling or psychotherapy that uses play to communicate with and help people, especially children, to prevent or resolve psychosocial challenges. This is thought to help them towards better social integration, growth and development.

Play therapy can also be used as a tool of diagnosis. A play therapist observes a client playing with toys (play-houses, pets, dolls, etc.) to determine the cause of the disturbed behavior. The objects and patterns of play, as well as the willingness to interact with the therapist, can be used to understand the underlying rationale for behavior both inside and outside the session.


Dolls can be used as part of a forensic psychology interviews. The interviews are used in attempts to ascertain if a child has been molested or otherwise abused. That is to say it is common during the interview for the child to describe where and how they were touched with a doll.

A particular type of anatomically correct dolls are used in law enforcement and therapy. These dolls have detailed depictions of all the primary and secondary sexual characteristics of a human: "oral and anal openings, ears, tongues, nipples, and hands with individual fingers" for all and a "vagina, clitoris and breasts" for each of the women and a "penis and testicles" for each of the men, according to the product descriptions provided by a company that sells such dolls.

These dolls are used during interviews with children who may have been sexually abused. The dolls wear removable clothing, and the anatomically correct and similarly scaled body parts ensure that sexual activity can be simulated realistically.


Dolls also can be used in sex ed.

These dolls are also sometimes used by parents or teachers as sex education.


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I think your suggestion: Play therapy is the right one here. What I found: "Puppets allow a child to displace feelings from the significant persons with whom they were originally connected. In doing so, puppets offer physical and psychological safety that, in turn, invites greater self expression." Source: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01875812#page-1 In this case my question is wrong. This technique would most probably be used between family members/frends/etc. in order to escape the social connection factor –  Mocialov Boris Jan 13 '14 at 20:16
Projective tests such as play with dolls can not be used to ascertain anything, especially not the truth about child abuse! The only role that dolls play in forensic or clinical psychology today is to draw the child's attention away from the situation, help it relax, and offer a topic to begin a conversation. Nothing else! The conclusion from the article you link to is: "The special role that puppets play in child therapy derives mostly from their facilitating value, their expansion of the communicative repertoire between child and therapist." [contd.] –  what Jan 14 '14 at 20:38
[contd.] Because research has shown that there is no relation between (sexual) abuse and play behavior, projective methods are not legitimate in a German court. –  what Jan 14 '14 at 20:39
@what i didn't say the dolls ascertained you misread. i said forensic psychology interviews ascertained and dolls are used in interviews. Common use is: point to the place on the doll where you were touched etc. –  caseyr547 Jan 14 '14 at 20:42
Casey, read your own answer. Your wrote: "Dolls can be used in forensic psychology interviews as well to ascertain if a child has been molested or otherwise abused." Dolls can be used to ascertain, is what you wrote. And that is not true. –  what Jan 14 '14 at 20:49

It's often referred to as "doll therapy" or "play therapy" and applies to adults as much as it does to children. For example, this new product, the "Inner Critic Doll" enables adults to hold a physical manifestation of their inner critic and start a dialogue with it. It has a zipper mouth which can be zipped shut to physically silence this inner voice.

The doll enables adults to confront an otherwise "formless" part of their psyche and has proven to be highly effective. It's used frequently by writers, artists, those suffering low self-esteem, etc., and I've even seen family members address each other on challenging topics via their inner critic doll, as it was easier than talking face-to-face.

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Interesting idea. Any references to research "proving" its efficacy, or a source corroborating its frequency of use? Hopefully you could at least elaborate on the contexts in which you've personally seen family members use it, and why you say it was easier for them. I understand the rationale, but where's the evidence? –  Nick Stauner May 25 '14 at 18:56

Play Therapy sounds really broad, not as specific as getting a patient to speak more comfortably by directing communication toward a non-human surrogate who can't respond. The emphasis is on the one-way conversation, not on 'playing' with a toy. No research to find a label already in use, but I like the phrase "Conversational Surrogate" to refer to dolls and the like inclusively, based on the function they perform in the context of the original question. If an adult is talking to the surrogate, but not otherwise playing with it or other toys, Play Therapy is probably a misnomer in that case. As a therapeutic tool its use is not restricted to Play Therapy sessions, thats just an easy association.

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I am not an expert (I know very little of psychology and psychological methods/practices), but the definition from the link based on Dr. Richard Bromfield essay, this term can also be applied to adults (my opinion) And a term, proposed by you, namely, "Conversational Surrogate" does not seem to be an officially coined term –  Mocialov Boris Jan 14 '14 at 7:56

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