Adult Colouring Books…Am I Doing Art Therapy?

Recently while seeking a research book for art therapy practice on Amazon.com, I typed in the words ‘art therapy’ into the search engine. Not surprisingly I was presented with pages and page of adult colouring books that preceded any theory or research books on the subject of art therapy. In the past, when I would tell people I was an art therapist the general response would be, ‘Tell me more, I haven’t heard of that’. Today, when I tell people I’m an art therapist the usual response is to refer to a colouring book they are working on or that they have seen in the store. In fact, Chapters-Indigo recently had a display table with a myriad of colouring books and an overarching sign above with the words Art Therapy! It is no wonder that the two are thought of as one and the same.

By Talia Singer, Psychotherapist

But is it the same? Is quiet, individual-led, home-based colouring considered art therapy? The answer used to depend on the definition of art therapy one prescribed to; do you do art for therapeutic purposes? Or do you engage in therapy that uses art as a tool? I say that the answer used to depend on personal preference because the College of Psychotherapists of Ontario had not been a factor in the past. Now with a governing professional College, it is more appropriate for art therapists to acknowledge that they are first and foremost psychotherapists. That is, mental health professionals who use creative tools of expression in a therapeutic setting.

Let me make clear that there are lots of benefits of being creative all on your own! It may fulfill a creative outlet you don’t get elsewhere, it may be time that you set aside for yourself, or it could just be plain fun to colour! However, if you are engaging in art therapy, it would usually involve an art therapist. Creating art with an art therapist has the additional benefit of the presence and interaction with another. This other person is a skilled listener and observer who is concerned with your well-being and individual circumstances. To be creative in a space where you are appreciated, heard, and often understood…well, that’s a novel and worthwhile experience!