© 2016 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD
Source: © 2016 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD

You have all heard about adult coloring books by now and here's the deal: color as much as you want if that is your passion in life. There is no doubt that adult coloring books can be forms of emotional grounding and relaxation, depending on the individual; repetitive movements form the basic foundation of many self-soothing activities, stress reduction methods and self-help practices. Thousands of adult consumers of coloring books are the real-time anecdotal evidence that rhythmically coloring in between the lines obviously provides at least some pleasurable, diversionary experiences to the colorists themselves. 

Coloring books, particularly the adult versions that are ubiquitous to the marketplace, have caught the attention of many an art therapist over the past year. In fact, many of the coloring books in question have titles like "Art Therapy: Star Wars," "Calm Yourself Through Art Therapy Coloring," or the "Art Therapy Stained Glass Coloring Book." I can only guess that this is why coloring sheets have also become the focus of a recent "art therapy coloring book page" contest for 35 "winners" according to the Dover Publications website that is co-hosting the competition with the American Art Therapy Association leadership.

For the record, I am pretty sure that most art therapists, related mental health and health care professionals, and even much of the public sector "get it" when it comes to what the healing factor is in art therapy and the expressive arts—it's the relationship, not any specific activity (aka coloring book), recipe or directive that effects change and supports well-being. In brief, any form of psychotherapy or counseling goes well beyond grounding and relaxation; effective expressive arts therapy helps to expand our awareness and become mindful of both body and mind. It also challenges us to grow within our "windows of tolerance" by asking us to engage in the creative process in order to take a little bit of risk, move a little bit farther out of our comfort zone, and learn to become just a little more curious about and compassionate toward the deepest parts of ourselves. Having spoken to thousands of counseling, psychotherapy and healthcare colleagues over the past several years, I have repeatedly found that they appreciate that any form of expressive arts therapy is, in fact, an art form in and of itself, requiring specific knowledge of not only psychotherapeutic principles, but also media, methods and the creative process.

So maybe rather than fighting fire (coloring books) with fire (an art therapy coloring book), I hold a vision that the art therapy community will take note of this critical juncture in its professional development and see its shadow in the pages of a coloring book that some earnest, well-meaning art therapists seek to create. Let's take this opportunity to redirect our energies away from "color in between these lines" thinking to how we can use art to heal our nation and our planet, albeit even through small steps in these troubling times. What we have to offer through the reparative powers of art making plus the art psychotherapeutic relationship is an important transformative force in this world—indeed, we art therapists are the ones we have been waiting for to make that happen.

Be well, Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT

©2016 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD

Learn more about art therapy and expressive arts therapy at Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute and attend a live presentation or take an online course with over 10,000 other learners from around the world.

2016 Australian Tour in November! See the Byron Clinic website for more information.

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