A new study showed that art therapy is more effective in making you feel better than coloring books. Adult coloring books are often advertised as "art therapy" but art therapists found that misleading. Art therapists said that true art therapy goes beyond the state of just feeling better.
Creative people usually express their stress and emotion on adult coloring books. It allows their heavy feelings to flow naturally through art. When a person starts to color the book, the focus and concentration lead to the expression of the artistic side while lowering stress, increasing imagination, and promoting thoughtfulness. Even though coloring books do not have the same effect as real art therapy, they still promote creativity and a sense of well-being:
- The mind enters a meditative state that is reflected by the sense of relief.
- The activity significantly lowers anxiety and depression symptoms.
- The cloudy effects of negative emotions and thoughts dissipate.
- The focus permits centering on the present time and mindfulness.
- The disconnection from technology keeps stress and worries at bay.
"The main takeaway is that coloring has some limited benefits like reducing stress and negative mental states. But it does not shift anything else of substance, develop relationships, nor result in any personal development," said Dr. Girija Kaimal, an assistant professor at College of Nursing and Health Professionals at Drexel University, and lead author of the study.
The researchers conducted two separate 40-minute exercises, in which one consisted of pure coloring while the other involved an art therapist. Twenty-nine participants were recruited in the study with ages between 19 to 67 and they took part in each exercise. In the pure coloring exercise, each participant simply colored books using patterns or design while the art therapist simply stayed in the room, without interacting with the participants.
In the other exercise, an open studio scenario was used with the art therapist directly engaged with each participant. The art therapist facilitated the session, provided the necessary guidance, and supported the artwork of the participants. Each participant was able to create their own art as they wished in any manner they wanted, such as coloring, doodling, sketching or modeling clay.
"The art therapists’ open studio sessions resulted in more empowerment, creativity, and improved mood which are significant for individuals striving to improve their quality of life and make lasting change," said Dr. Kaimal.
The participants also took standardized surveys before and after the exercises. The surveys include insights on how they ranked their stress levels and feelings on each exercise. According to the survey results, participants reported the following:
- Perceived stress levels dropped by 14 percent in open studio and 10 percent in coloring.
- Negative mental levels dropped 6 percent in open studio and almost 7 percent in coloring.
- The open studio exercise increased self-efficacy of participants by 7 percent.
- Assistance from an art therapist increased creativity by 4 percent.
- Support from an art therapist increased positive feelings by 25 percent.
According to Dr. Kaimal, true art therapy offers more than just reducing stress levels. Art sessions including direct engagement with an art therapist offer interpersonal interaction, problem-solving that revolves around creativity, and empowerment. These positive reinforcements signify the good feeling when doing true art, compared to the just removing the bad feelings in coloring.
CRC Health also supports the therapeutic benefits of art therapy in various forms of visual arts, such drawing, painting, and sculpting. The therapy helps people who are struggling with addition, traumatic events, depression and grief, and other challenges in life. A neuropsychologist, Dr. Stan Rodski, said that adult coloring books can mimic the meditation. Dr. Rodski applied science and advanced technology to prove it.
"The most amazing things occurred we started seeing changes in heart rate, changes in brainwaves. There are three key elements -- repetition, pattern, and detail -- that prompt positive neurological responses in participants. When you have things that you can predict will happen in a certain way, it's calming for us," said Dr. Rodski to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Children also benefit from art therapy to remedy their anxiety, sadness, and stress. According to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, art therapy is a modality capable of guiding a child to good health and happiness. It can be a method to pursue artistic and creative goals through drawing, mosaics, clay making, music, and more. Parents can even use art therapy to assess and treat psychological problems of their child. Some physical ailments may also be treated through art therapy because it encourages relaxation, diverts attention away from pain, and aids cognitive difficulties.
Children with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can receive positive influence from art therapy. The therapy allows them to express freely, improve their mood, and encourage self-healing. The beauty of art therapy is all about expression of feelings in the form of an art, which never requires a person to be creative or intellectual. Art therapy is for everyone.