The Benefits of Adult Coloring Books vs Creating Your Own Art

"Adult" coloring books have become a socially acceptable and "cool" new way to relax. Almost every store that I go into now there are adult coloring books at the checkout - from the grocery store to the shoe store. I have clients who come into their intake for art therapy sessions holding their coloring books. They say, "Oh, I have already been doing art therapy. I color in this coloring book every night. It helps to distract me from my thoughts".

Adult coloring books are promoted as a fun way to relax, as stress management or an anti-anxiety tool. Some claim to be "art therapy" in the title of the coloring book. I educate my clients that the adult coloring books are actually not the same as the actual field of art therapy, but that I am glad that they have found a way to begin to introduce art materials back into their lives! Many of my clients seem excited to purchase themselves a bright shiny new coloring book and also to have a reason to purchase their own set of crayons, markers, and colored pencils.

It saddens me that many teens and adults today seem to need "permission" socially to enjoy creating art. I hear my clients say that they are so happy that adult coloring books are "in" so that they can color again. They comment on how they feel they are not an artist but that the coloring books gives them a safe way to use art materials and feel successful in what they are creating. At many of the workshops that I facilitate I hear adults say that they haven't used an art material in "over 30 years" or "since I was a young child", and that they had forgotten how fun and freeing creating art is!

I feel that a part of my job as an art therapist is to re-introduce people to their own sense of fun and childlike wonder. Somewhere along the path to adulthood many of us have ignored this part of ourselves. We have lost connection and trust in our own creative process. For many people, they feel if they cannot create something that looks like it should be in a museum that they are not creative. As an art therapist I am able to hold space and give people permission to reconnect to their creative parts with love and without judgement. During art therapy sessions, clients are able to explore and learn how to express themselves through the creative process and also learn how to understand the wisdom from their own subconscious minds. They are able to break free of old patterns of thinking and behavior and create new realities for themselves.

I am happy that adult coloring books feel safe and accessible to people today. Coloring can help us to feel calmer and help us to relax, reduce stress, and boost our ability to focus and enhance mental clarity. Coloring can be done quietly alone or socially in groups. It can be easier to talk about challenging topics while we are busy coloring ,as it gives our mind and body a task to do while talking, and can take the focus off of the challenging emotion. Coloring can be done as a morning or bedtime daily practice. While people are coloring, worries temporarily fade away.

Although coloring can provide a distraction to daily stresses, it is just that: simply a distraction. The basic act of coloring within someone else's pre-drawn boundaries is not the same as your own creative expression, and does not help you to become more conscious and self-aware. Also, although there are many people who love coloring in the adult coloring books, many of my clients also find them more stressful rather than relaxing, as they worry they will "mess up" or find the pattern too overwhelming.

There are many other articles out there on this topic. Click here to read an article posted by CNN on the topic of the adult coloring books. Click here to read another art therapist's perspective on adult coloring books.

I recognize that adult coloring books are a gateway into incorporating art materials into people's lives and to provide a safe way for some people to begin to develop a daily creative practice. I work with my clients on having the adult coloring books on hand as a tool if they enjoy the simple act of coloring as a ritual, and I educate them that coloring does not provide the same mental benefits or self-awareness as creating their own art. I work clients at each session on expanding their horizons regarding the many benefits of creating their own art and developing a relationship with it's meaning within their own lives to facilitate transformation and positive change.

Benefits of creating your own art:

- Express your challenges and struggles and transform them

- Become more self-aware

- Increase your problem solving skills and come up with your own unique solutions

- See a situation from a new perspective

- Stimulate your brain to grow new neurons

- Get both hemispheres of your brain communicating with each other

- Boost self-esteem

- Increase the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine

- Increase drive, focus, concentration and motivation

- Increase psychological resilience and resistance to stress

- Increase ability to focus on positive life experiences

- Lower stress by lowering levels of stress hormone cortisol

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