A new study shows that although the extremely popular adult coloring books can reduce stress, they are not nearly as effective for mental health as engaging in true art therapy. The findings show that participants who created their own art in a therapist-assisted open studio experienced heightened creativity, more positive mood and feelings of empowerment, whereas those who worked on coloring alone did not improve in these areas.
“Coloring might allow for some reduction in distress or negativity, but since it is a structured task, it might not allow for further creative expression, discovery, and exploration which we think is associated with the positive mood improvements we saw in the open studio condition,” said study leader Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.
For the study, which involved 29 participants aged 19 to 67, the researchers conducted two 40-minute exercises, one involving coloring only and the other involving direct input from an art therapist. The goal was to observe whether either one led to significant differences in mood and stress levels.
In the coloring exercise, the participants colored in a pattern or design. Although an art therapist was in the room, they did not interact with the participants.
In the second exercise, participants were placed in an “open studio” situation, where an art therapist was present and able to facilitate the session, as well as provide guidance and support to process the experience and artwork. In this exercise, the participants were allowed to create any type of art they wished, whether it involved coloring, sketching, doodling, or working with modeling clay. As the participants worked on their pieces, the art therapists created art as well, and were available to assist the participants if they asked for help.
Before and after each session, the participants completed standardized surveys ranking their stress levels and feelings.
The findings show that perceived stress levels went down approximately the same level for both exercises (10 percent for coloring; 14 percent for open studio). Negative mental states also showed similar decreases (roughly a seven percent decrease for coloring; six percent for open studio).
But while the coloring exercise didn’t show significant changes for any other effects, participants in the therapist-aided open studio session experienced a seven percent increase in self-efficacy, four percent increase in creative agency, and a 25 percent increase in positive feelings.
“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 Kaimal.
“Many of the outcomes were enabled through the relational support from the art therapist. The art therapist-facilitated session involves more interpersonal interaction, problem solving around creative choices and expression, empowerment, and perhaps more learning about the self and others. That all contributes to the outcomes we saw.”
So while coloring did help alleviate bad feelings, it didn’t create good feelings in the way that actual art therapy might.
“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.”
The findings are published in the Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal.
Source: Drexel University