Exploring Therapy Dolls For Anxiety Treatment

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated June 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety is a common part of life for many people. A healthy level of anxiety can be helpful–it might keep us aware of danger or encourage us to pay attention in important situations. You may feel nervous as you prepare for a job interview or go on a first date, as these are typically anxiety—producing events. 

However, when anxiety becomes the primary emotion you feel or begins to impact your daily life, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder. Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, a variety of treatment methods are available that may help ease your anxiety symptoms. In this article, we’ll discuss the use of therapy dolls, an alternative anxiety treatment.

Is anxiety disrupting your daily life?

What are therapy dolls?

Mental health professionals sometimes use therapy dolls to help manage a variety of conditions. Commonly known for their use with dementia patients to reduce agitation, the calming role of therapy dolls has gained popularity for treating other conditions like anxiety and depression. 

Some therapy dolls, such as Reborn Babies, take on the appearance of a real infant to simulate the experience of being caregivers for patients. Other therapy dolls have different characteristics that make them useful for treating particular mental health conditions or patients with specific care needs. 

Types of therapy dolls

  • Reborn dolls. A Reborn Doll is made to look completely lifelike, with an appearance and weight that's very similar to a newborn baby. They’re often used for the purpose of simulating the caregiver role. These baby dolls range in price from less than a hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars.

  • Weighted dolls. Like weighted blankets, weighted dolls provide gentle pressure. This deep-pressure therapy can help reduce feelings of anxiety, calm your heart rate and breathing, and provide a sense of comfort. Reborn Dolls are often weighted, but not all weighted dolls have a realistic-looking appearance.

  • Aromatherapy dolls. These dolls may use scented stuffing or essential oils to provide a calming sensation. Essential oils have been shown to help impact the brain's emotional center, but studies on their benefits show mixed results.

  • Tactile dolls. A therapy doll or its clothes may include patches of different textures, such as fuzzy or rough fabric, that provide comfort when touched. Like textured sensory toys or stickers, these dolls provide sensory stimulation that may help some people control  anxiety and boost focus. 

Potential benefits of therapy dolls for anxiety

Therapy dolls can bring comfort to those experiencing symptoms of anxiety and reduce the impact those symptoms have on your life. Below are some common benefits that may be associated with using a therapy doll. 

It can be helpful to remember that research on therapy dolls is still evolving and has historically focused mostly on older adults with dementia. However, anecdotal reports by both mental health practitioners and their clients suggest that some people may experience the following perks when using therapy dolls for anxiety. 

Reduced stress levels

Holding and interacting with therapy dolls sometimes produces a calming effect on the nervous system, which helps reduce stress levels. 

Emotional support

Holding a therapy doll may bring people a sense of safeness, similar to that felt when holding a favorite stuffed animal or other comfort animal. A therapy doll can also provide a sense of companionship, especially for someone with anxiety who may find it challenging to be around others.

Improved quality of life

Having a concrete, available resource that can help reduce anxiety symptoms, like a therapy doll, may help improve your quality of life. People with anxiety who get relief from therapy dolls can use them to help manage worry and spikes in anxiety. However, more research is needed to confirm this since the effect of therapy dolls on anxiety has not been widely studied for long enough to produce conclusive results. 


Enhanced social skills

Dolls may be helpful tools when preparing for stressful social situations. You may find it useful to use your therapy doll, either on your own or with a therapist, to act out social situations that cause anxiety, such as:

  • Attending an event or party

  • Eating in front of others

  • Making small talk

  • Using public bathrooms

Improved focus

A therapy doll can aid mindfulness by providing something for a person experiencing anxiety to focus on. For example, they may practice maintaining awareness of the doll’s weight or smell. Learning to transfer their focus from anxiety-inducing thoughts to something else is a skill that can then be applied to real-world situations.

How to use doll therapy for anxiety

There are multiple strategies a person can use when trying out a therapy doll for anxiety relief. Also, you may want to consider working with a therapist, who could make suggestions and provide further guidance on using a therapy doll to ease anxiety.

Incorporate the doll into daily routines 

You may want to try involving your therapy doll in your routines to reduce anxious thoughts before they occur. For example, you can hold and interact with the doll while you get ready. This may provide comfort prior to potentially stressful situations you may encounter throughout the day. If you feel comfortable doing so, you may even take your therapy doll into situations or places that induce anxiety, such as a stressful get-together or on public transportation.

Hold the doll during meditation

Anxiety may make it challenging to meditate as your thoughts wander from the present moment to your worries. By holding a therapy doll while you meditate, you can encourage yourself to focus on the sensations associated with the doll. Does it have a particular smell? How does it feel in your hands or arms? What do you notice about the doll?

Involve the doll in therapy sessions

A therapy doll that brings comfort may be a helpful tool during therapy sessions, which can become quite vulnerable. As you speak with your therapist, you might use the doll to soothe yourself by holding and squeezing the doll, or simply running your fingers along a soft piece of doll clothing. Your therapist may also be able to advise you on how you can use your therapy doll to practice for social situations in order to decrease anxiety. 

Other methods for treating anxiety

Therapy dolls can sometimes be a helpful tool in reducing anxiety symptoms, but so far, there isn't any research suggesting they can replace traditional anxiety treatments like counseling and medication. The American Psychological Association has found that a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often highly effective in treating anxiety. However, reaching a local CBT therapist can be challenging. Searching for a CBT-trained therapist in your area that you feel comfortable working with may be time-consuming and frustrating. 

Is anxiety disrupting your daily life?

With online therapy providers, finding a therapist who works well for you may happen more quickly. Instead of having to make multiple phone calls and meet people in-person, you can browse and chat online. Once you've settled on an online therapist, you can join sessions from your own home, potentially helping you save money, time, and stress.

In a study examining the efficacy of online therapy, researchers found that people who participated in internet-based cognitive behavior therapy saw significant reductions in social anxiety and depressive symptoms. Online therapy may be a beneficial option for treating anxiety, and it can be combined with other resources like therapy dolls.


If you’re experiencing anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, therapy dolls are one strategy you can implement that may help reduce your symptoms. They’re often best used in conjunction with other treatments, such as therapy. A licensed mental health professional may provide advice on how you might get optimal benefits from your therapy doll.
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