The days when coloring books are exclusive to the kids’ section in the bookstores are over. Recently, adult coloring books have been hitting the shelves, and flying off of them, as they’ve been found to have healing powers. While their therapeutic properties aren’t exactly about curing diseases, how they make coping a lot better sure does wonders for patients, young and old.
For years, researchers have acknowledged the healing qualities of art. Today, it is a way for people to express thoughts and feelings that they cannot put into words. Proven to be a form of release, art therapy often showed concrete results. One 2006 study found that women with cancer who underwent mindfulness art therapy had significantly reduced symptoms of physical and emotional distress during treatment. That same year, another study found that after just one hour of coloring, adult patients expressed great comfort and wanted to continue the therapy.
“People with cancer very often feel like their body has been taken over by the cancer. They feel overwhelmed,” Drexel University music therapist Joke Bradt said in an interview, “To be able to engage in a creative process… that stands in a very stark contrast to sort of passively submitting oneself to cancer treatments.”
Coloring and Mental Health
Cancer patients aren’t the only ones that benefit from art therapy and the therapeutic adult coloring. Depression, PTSD, and dementia sufferers have also been found to improve their mood and condition after engaging in the activity. Visual art and coloring are ideal for these conditions because they don’t require patients to be particularly skilled to produce something beautiful. With other art forms such as playing instruments, patients may judge themselves for their lack of talent, causing stress instead of relief and relaxation.
Therapeutic, But Not a Therapy
Art therapist at New York University’s Steinhardt School Drena Fagen says, “I don’t consider the coloring books as art therapy. I consider the coloring books therapeutic, which is not the same thing.” But, while adult coloring alone doesn’t constitute art therapy, it doesn’t mean it’s not helpful. It improves concentration and promotes a relaxing mindset, similar to the effects of meditation.
Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuropsychologist and author of several adult coloring books says, says like mediation, coloring allows us to divert from other thoughts and focus on the moment. He traces the calming effects from the predictability of the activity, and observed significant improvements in the patients’ health.
“The most amazing things occurred — we started seeing changes in heart rate, changes in brainwaves,” Dr. Rodski said, adding that repetition and attention to pattern brought by coloring cause this neurological response.
University of New South Wales’ brain scientist, Dr. Joel Pearson, traces this response from the replacement of unpleasant thoughts with pleasant images during coloring.
“You have to look at the shape and size, you have to look at the edges, and you have to pick a color,” he said. “It should occupy the same parts of the brain that stops any anxiety-related mental imagery happening as well. … Anything that helps you control your attention is going to help.”
Whatever the reason, coloring does have undeniable healing powers.