Are Coloring Books A Form of Art Therapy?

The recent surge of coloring books and their faulty marketing as a form of art therapy have sparked debate within the art therapy community and the public at large. We interviewed one of our art therapists, Suzanne Deisher, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT, to get her insight on whether coloring books serve as a form of art therapy or serve as a therapeutic mechanism. 

What is your position on labeling the use of coloring books as “art therapy?”

Labeling coloring books as art therapy are both incorrect and problematic because it implies that using a coloring book is art therapy. Art therapy is a mental health profession that includes participation of a client with the guidance of an actual art therapist, so it’s misleading for a coloring book to be labeled art therapy. 

In what ways can coloring books benefit mental health?

Coloring books are good if you are looking for a distraction from everyday stressors.

How does self-care relate to and differ from therapy?

Self-care encompasses things that we do to care for ourselves. Therapy is when you’re examining some of the reasons why you are struggling or having difficulties in life in general.

What is your stance on using coloring books as a therapeutic activity?

I think that if somebody is drawn to coloring books and it helps release stress, then I think that they’re great. 

Many articles on coloring books argue that coloring books promote “escapism” and “distraction.” Are there any benefits to temporary escapism from an art therapist’s perspective?

I think we all need to escape every once in a while. Having something to distract yourself with temporarily is not necessarily a negative thing. If you’re using it to escape and distract yourself from dealing with things that are happening in your life that need attention, then it can be an issue.

Would you, or have you already, incorporate coloring books into your therapy sessions? Why or why not?

In general, coloring books are not something that I use during groups. At times I have provided a coloring sheet when requested by a client to help them reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing when joining a group or if they are feeling overwhelmed. It allows them to engage with the art materials easily.

Do you have any additional thoughts on the trend of coloring books and its relationship to art therapy?

I think coloring books in themselves are totally fine. I think they are only detrimental to the field when they are marketed and represented as a form of art therapy. The trend of coloring books as stress relief is wonderful, but there is no true relationship to art therapy.

joan choremi