Color Your Blues Away with Adult Coloring Books

by | Jan 16, 2016 | Food for Thought, Therapy & Behavioral Change | 0 comments

I recently traded my television set for a set of color pencils and adult coloring books. All in the desperate hope to color my blues away . . .


Adult coloring books have been flooding bookstores of late and 9 of the top 20 bestsellers on are adult coloring books. Two of the biggest bestsellers,Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest have sold a combined 13.5 million copies in 50 countries.


Words like “stress-relieving”, “calming” and “art therapy” on the cover of these books caught my attention.


My inclination to experiment with new therapeutic methods prompted me to get a copy of a coloring book. I colored for an hour to get a notion of what neurological response I will get from these coloring books. After which, I began to ponder what mental health experts think about these books.


What the Experts Say About Adult Coloring Books

1. Art Therapists
According to Cathy Malchiodi, the act of creating art enhances the quality of life, reduces stress, improves cognitive abilities and increases attention span.


However, as a leading expert in art therapy, Cathy does not condone adult coloring books as a form of therapy. She argued that, “people are adamant that coloring books are a path to mindfulness, meditation and some kind of psychological nirvana. I find that many of the loudest proponents are actually those that create the coloring books.”


According to her “the motion of crayon or pencil moving back and forth within pre-made boundaries is perceived as a form of containment, mastery and mind-numbing escape from the here-and-now.”


Donna Betts, the President of the Board of the American Art Therapy Association and a proponent of “art making as a form of therapy” affirms that she would not consider using adult coloring books in her therapy sessions.


Drena Fagen, an art therapist from New York University’s Steinhardt School, had tried using these books in her therapy sessions. She made a clear distinction:

“I don’t consider the coloring books as art therapy. I consider the coloring books therapeutic, which is not the same thing.”


2. Neuroscientists
Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuroscientist in brain research and peak performance has his own line of “anti-stress” coloring books. He claimed that while coloring, the brain “focuses on the moment” and the mind shift away from distracting thoughts.


Jordan Gaines Lewis, science writer and Ph.D. student at Penn State College of Medicine, theorized that coloring gives a “refreshing sense of control”. After a hectic day, it allows us to make small “inconsequential decisions”.


Dr. Joel Pearson, an Australian brain scientist, posits that the act of coloring takes focus away from anxiety-related mental images. According to him, the experience of coloring is like playing Tetris, which has proven to help people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).



3. Psychologists
Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist and the author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy, gives us with a Jungian view on coloring:

“Carl Jung used to try to get his patients to color mandalas as a way of getting them to focus on letting go of the subconscious mind. Now we know it has a lot of other stress busting qualities as well.”


Psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala explained that while focusing on the act of coloring, the stress-controlling part of our brain takes a well needed rest.


Shannon Bennett, New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College assistant professor of psychology doesn’t resonate with adult coloring books. She states that “it’s not something that would be a go-to for me”.


4. Hypnotherapists
From the point of view of a hypnotherapist, I endorse Carl Jung’s suggestion of coloring mandalas. However, I will not consider an adult coloring book as an alternative form of therapy. 


The act of coloring a complicated pattern engages the brain in a repetitive and mundane act and have the Ericksonian effects of putting the mind in a trance-like state. While coloring, you “lose yourself” in the art itself and your mind suspends all judgment and unwanted thoughts. Thus, the hypnotic-like effect spurred by the act of coloring may put the mind in a relaxed state.



Adult coloring books may aid in the relieve of stress but it should not be considered as a form of therapy. Paraphrasing the words of Marygrace Berberian, a certified art therapist and Clinical Assistant Professor for the Graduate Art Therapy Program at NYU:


“Coloring itself cannot be called [art] therapy because [art] therapy relies on the relationship between the client and the therapist”.

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