The Underappreciated Power of Coloring and Art Therapy

In today’s world, much of the increase in life expectancy compared to ancient times can be credited to the advancement of medicine and technology. We can now see, identify, study and observe things at a molecular level, allowing us access to more information and more knowledge about the human body. So much time and research goes into the study of the human brain, our behaviors and how to make life easier. We now have explanations backed up by scientific research and study to help us explain and understand what goes on in the crevices of our cerebral that we now have countless options on treatment, be it traditional, modern or alternative. Needless to say, the study of anxiety, stress, depression and other psychological disturbances have come a long way. We can now measure soundwaves and impulses in our brain as we react to stimulus. These studies have also proven alternative therapies such as coloring and art therapy to be an effective means of treatment for psychological problems such as anxiety and depression (Curry & Kasser, 2005), but why aren’t these methods and techniques applied and practiced as a first option for treatment? My research paper focuses on the therapeutic potential of coloring and art therapy, and why it should be given more credit and attention as a viable means of treatment in the area of psychology.

So much interest and investment seem to go into the pharmaceutical option as the standard remedy. But although companies are able to develop medication that can help those who need to live and function normally, there have also been numerous accounts of risks associated with these treatments that could have been an option not taken (Whitbourne, 2015). Meanwhile, nation upon nations filled with nationals harboring a growing debt and drug dependency problem grow more and more everyday (Regev & Cohen-Yatziv, 2018).

 Therapies like coloring and art may just be as effective, but why are they immediately ruled out? This form of alternative therapy has the proven potential to treat those suffering from psychological problems, but not so many people seem to even know about this, and those who do know and can recommend it seem to ignore it in favor of drug prescriptions. The impact of alternative therapies, specifically coloring and art therapy have sadly not been given the attention it needs. It is ironic how much of this area of research has been underappreciated when this could have been the very solution to treating a person without costing so much. Art Therapy uses the creative process to help clients explore and reconcile their emotions, develop self-awareness, reduce anxiety, cope with trauma, manage behavior, and increase self-esteem. Additionally, art therapy is particularly useful in cases of trauma, as it provides patients with a visual language to use if they lack the words to express their feelings (Cherry, 2020). Studies support the therapy’s efficacy, finding that it can help rehabilitate people with mental disorders and improve a person’s mental outlook.

Art therapy has long been explored as a promising alternative in aiding people with managing their anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD and the list goes on (Cherry, 2020). But why aren’t these practices rightfully exercised? Why has the research been underappreciated in favor of the more invasive and costly choices? The answer lies in the bottom line. Unfortunately, money has always been the driving force behind expensive research and finding treatments by pharmaceutical companies. Along with this, much of the medical professionals in charge of a person’s health have been swayed by the benefits promised to them by pharmaceutical representatives for recommending specific brands as well as knowing that the solution would merit a faster and easier result compared to non-drug therapeutic options (Whitbourne, 2015). This shows how much power money has in the equation, because art therapy costs almost nothing compared to drug therapies and psychotropic alternatives (Uttley et. al., 2015). It is unfortunate that majority of our world and society value economic gain and growth more than a person’s mental health. In fact, the sicker a person is, the better because that would mean more medication, and more money goes to these companies that push and lobby for psychotropic medication as a first and ultimate option (Whitbourne, 2015).

The negative effects of the underappreciation of alternative solutions such as art therapy surges in like a domino effect. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. People feel they don’t have any other choice because Art therapies, like coloring are not presented or taught to them. Most people don’t even know such an alternative exists. Meanwhile, an onslaught of medical bills and maintenance fees plagues a person which contributes to the worsening of their condition (Uttley et. al., 2015). Knowing that there are other alternatives that are cheaper for mental health will make a world of difference. As a start, people can be free of the burden of paying for medication. Debts no longer have to keep getting bigger, allowing a person to feel more liberated and therefore less stressed.

Aside from that, art therapy offers a list of benefits that would not only treat a person’s depression or anxiety, but their whole wellbeing.  Adult coloring books can help with a number of emotional and mental health issues. For many, boredom, lack of structure, and stress are the greatest triggers they have. This applies to individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety disorders, stress disorders, depressive disorders, eating and binge eating disorders, anger management issues, and substance abuse issues. The time and focus that coloring takes helps the individual remove the focus from the negative issues and habits, and focus them in a safe and productive way. Coloring also has intellectual benefits as well. It utilizes areas of the brain that enhance focus and concentration. It also helps with problem solving and organizational skills. Our frontal lobes are responsible for these higher level activities and functions of the brain, and coloring detailed pictures activates all those properties (Dovey, 2015).

Coloring also elicits a relaxing mindset, similar to what you would achieve through meditation. It allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts, and like meditation, allow us to focus on the moment. Furthermore, Concentrating on coloring an image may facilitate the replacement of negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones (Dovey, 2015).

With all the benefits mentioned above, I would like to propose a call of action to mental health and education professionals. Proper appreciation from mental health professionals would mean that they recommend these techniques to qualified patients as a first option instead of resorting to drug therapy right away, while proper appreciation from educators and professionals in the school system would also mean that they should educate students on the benefits of coloring and art therapy and use this as a tool to help manage and regulate stress and anxiety in the school system (Cherry, 2020). They could also include a mandatory coloring or art therapy program along with the curriculum as a prophylaxis for any expected stressor in the future. This would also teach children how to manage their emotions through art and coloring (Gnezda, 2015).

Another audience who needs to know about coloring and art therapy as a powerful tool for treatment in anxiety and depression is the general public, because it is not only an easy and cheap alternative, but also entertaining and fun to do. If the general public can be adequately informed about these therapeutic options, perhaps more would adhere to its devices and decrease the use of drug therapy dependencies to only those who absolutely need it. Knowing that there is a different option that they can choose from that has lesser risks on the effects of psychotropic drugs on their health and financial situation might also encourage others to be open to seeking help and treatment. They will also be more informed about their choices and options of treatment, which would somehow allow them to regain a sense of control and hope back into their lives.

In conclusion, there is much to benefit from the appreciation of Coloring and Art therapy as a means of treatment towards psychological disturbances like anxiety and depression. As proven from studies and researches in the field of psychology, there are many discoveries on alternate therapy techniques that help manage and reduce stress and anxiety without the use of psychotropic drug medication. Coloring books clearly help serve many purposes that are beneficial. They can be so much more than the color by number that people might be thinking they are. They can be focused, therapeutic, relaxing, calming, problem solving, and organizational. As you can see, they are highly effective for many reasons, and the ideas behind them have stood the test of time, even if society might dismiss them as simply being a fad. They are definitely worth another look.

Annotated Bibliography

Cherry, K. (2020, May 11). How Art Therapy is Used to Help People Heal. Very Well Mind.

This source shows how art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental disorders and psychological distress like severe stress, or children suffering from behavioral or social problems, or those who have experienced a traumatic event. It is also used in treating PTSD, aging-related issues, anxiety, Depression, Eating disorders and other medical conditions. 

Curry, N.A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Journal of the

American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81-85.

This study examines the effectiveness of art therapy, specifically Coloring mandalas in the reduction of anxiety. The findings from this study suggested that structured coloring of a reasonably complex geometric pattern-such as a mandala, may induce a meditative state that benefits individuals suffering from anxiety. 

Dovey, D. (2015, October 8). The therapeutic science of adult coloring books: How this

childhood pastime helps adults relieve stress. Medical Daily.  

This article in Medical Daily on the Therapeutic science of adult coloring books enumerate a number of studies that support coloring and art therapy as a more cost effective way of managing stress, anxiety and other mental disturbances. Coloring also improves focus and promotes calmness which aid in the treatment of some mental health issues. 

Gnezda, N. (2015). Art therapy in educational setting: A confluence of practices. Arts

Teaching Journal, 1(1), 92-102.  

This article explains principles of art therapy, bases for its efficacy, and examples of art-therapy-style expressive arts interventions in two educational settings: a suburban high school and a center for homeless and low-income children.

Regev, D., & Cohen-Yatziv, L. (2018). Effectiveness of art therapy with adult clients in

2018: What progress has been made?. Frontiers in Psychology9(1531).

This article deals with research that focuses on measuring the effectiveness of art therapy. It presents 27 studies published from 2000 to 2017 in the field that examine the effectiveness of art therapy with adult clients and divides them into seven clinical categories: cancer patients, clients coping with a variety of medical conditions, mental health clients, clients coping with trauma, prison inmates, the elderly, and clients who have not been diagnosed with specific issues but face ongoing daily challenges. It underscores the potential effects of art therapy on these seven clinical populations, and recommends the necessary expansions for future research in the field, to enable art therapy research to take further strides forward.

Uttley, L., Stevenson, M., Scope, A., Rawdin, A. & Sutton, A. (2015). The clinical and cost

effectiveness of group art therapy for people with non-psychotic mental health disorders: A systematic review and cost-effectiveness analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 15(151).

This study which is commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research, UK was aimed to systematically appraise the clinical and cost-effective evidence for art therapy for people with non-psychotic mental health disorders. The findings from the study show that patients end up spending significantly more on medication than if they switched to art therapy.

Whitbourne, S.K. (2015, July 21). Psychotherapy vs. Medications: The verdict is in.

Psychology Today.

This blog post from Psychology Today as my secondary source, which reports on how the average person seeking help has tended to seek psychiatric drugs rather than other means of therapy. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have become among the leading prescription drugs not only in the U.S. but around the world. This multi-billion dollar drug industry has heavily influenced the decisions of many professionals and those seeking help, making the quick fix solution of medication a forefront option as compared to natural therapies like coloring and art therapy instead.

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