Adult Coloring Books: Effective Coping Tool?

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This post was originally titled, “Adult Coloring Books: Don’t Believe the Hype!” But I would hate to take the chance of keeping someone from a useful coping tool and I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to do so. Since originally publishing this post, I’ve received valuable feedback, read articles on my own, and done some reflecting. I’ve come to realize that adult coloring books can be an effective coping tool. However, this does not negate my original post below↓ I still think that several of the benefits touted by their publishers are exaggerated and somewhat misleading. That’s where my frustration lies. But I understand how coloring can act as a distraction, in the same way other effective coping tools do.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else thinks. All that matters is that you find coping tools that work for YOU. And because you’re an adult, you have the ability to choose for yourself. So read on, try an Adult Coloring Book out for yourself and you be the judge!

It’s kind of impossible to ignore all of the hoopla over “Adult Coloring Books style=.” Believe me, I’ve tried. But I quickly realized that adult coloring books are not just a childish, passing trend. Nope. People are jumping on the coloring bandwagon left and right!

Coloring book sellers and colorers themselves have made big claims. From stress and anxiety reduction, to improved creativity, and comparisons to the mindfulness and meditative qualities of yoga. Some even say that the therapeutic benefits of coloring are comparable to those received from art therapy.

If you’ve read my post on the Healing Power of Art, then you know that participating in art-based practices are greatly beneficial to psychological well-being. But let me clarify what I mean when I speak of art, and what I naively thought everyone else did too. I mean taking part in the creative process by participating in artistic expression and/or creating. Like, for example, sketching, painting, knitting or sewing, sculpting, writing, singing, or playing an instrument.

And then there’s art therapy, which is also scientifically backed and used in settings like psychotherapy and rehabilitation and treatment facilities. It aids in expressing and understanding emotions through artistic expression and the creative process. It increases awareness of self and others, promotes mindfulness and enhances cognitive function.

So, is coloring inside a set of predefined lines really capable of providing us with these benefits?

I think not.

In a Psychology Today article, art therapist and psychotherapist Cathy Malchiodi shares that coloring is not mindfulness, it is not creative art expression, and it is not therapy. She says that the fact that, “the concepts of meditation and mindfulness are being used to describe coloring pre-made designs is, in fact, insulting to these practices that have deep cultural, and spiritual foundations. . .   Until proven otherwise, your coloring book is not an autopilot to a mindfulness or meditative experience.”

The most basic reason it’s not art therapy is because as Cathy states, art therapy requires a relationship. Thus the title of her article, Are You Having a Relationship with an Adult Coloring Book?

Carl Jung: Mandalas

The World’s Best Mandala Coloring Book: A Stress Management Coloring Book For Adults

But I also want to clarify another point that I keep reading over and over again. That psychologists, including the renowned Carl Jung, have “prescribed” coloring books to their clients for years. I cannot speak of all other psychologists, but if people are speaking of the Mandalas, they were not simply coloring pages.

The Mandala is symbolic. It’s a graphical representation of center {Self}. It is present in all ancient cultures and even spiritual practices. The Mandala is a meditative image, as it puts the practitioner in touch with his or her ego. When this geometric shape appears in our dreams it’s a symbol of self-growth. It’s our psyche centering itself through new, unconscious information. And in modern times these Mandalas can take the form of really anything circular, like clocks, circular lakes, or radial buildings. Mandalas were not simply coloring pages in which Jung sent home with his clients.


Look, who doesn’t enjoy coloring?! And it’s okay to enjoy coloring for the sake of coloring, even as an adult, without trying to turn it into something that it’s not.

But it’s not therapeutic. If you need therapy, go to a skilled professional. It’s not artistic expression because the only things you’re expressing are your color preferences. In my opinion, artistic expression requires one to break outside the lines, to draw the lines, or to color on a page that has no lines and see what happens (or plan it out from the beginning).

Adult coloring books are just one of those things I don’t get. I feel as though it’s one of those bandwagon things. But hey, if it works for you that’s all that matters! Different coping tools work for different people.

What are your thoughts on “Adult Coloring Books style=?” Do tell!



  1. Interesting….
    I understand that there’s been a lot of marketing hype about adult colouring books, with all sorts of claims.

    However, there is definately something in it. It’s quite sad that folks would get pompously intellectual about it!

    We have given colouring pages to our children, since we invented paper. Why is that? Colouring within the lines encourages fine motor control and it focuses the visual parts of our minds, bringing us into the present moment. And colouring is not just about putting flat colours randomly into shapes, it’s also about shading to create perspective and a perception of three dimensions…there’s a visceral feeling associated with the process.

    Recently I was in hospital recovering from a manic episode. There were lots of colouring sheets and pencils contantly available at the front desk. Using them helped me to get my mind back in sync, and of course I don’t believe in coincidence ?

    Mandalas are great..but not superior. They illustrate symmetry, stimulate pattern recognition and help is to feel the fractal nature of the reality. But perfection is not real.

    Anyway, these are just my thoughts. For me colouring is a useful tool to calm agitation and anxiety in my experience.

    1. You know Catherine, after publishing this post and getting feedback, I’ve realized that many people honestly do find adult coloring books helpful. In fact, Rebecca Lombardo just recently shared in an interview here on The Sunny Shadow that adult coloring books do a great job at calming her anxiety. I’ve been considering updating the post, but now I’m sure. All that matters is that they work for YOU. If you find something that works for you, who cares what other people think. Different coping tools work for different people. I would just feel horrible if I kept someone from a possibly useful coping tool. That would be quite irresponsible of me. This post is simply my opinion, and of course the art therapist I quote in the post obviously at least somewhat agrees. But ultimately, people have to be adult enough {see what I did there ;-} to make their own decisions. A kind of, take what you need and leave the rest type of thing.

      Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. I love honest feedback and constructive criticism. It helps me grow. Please visit again. I love your site. Take care, Krista

  2. I have 2 adult coloring books. I know they will not ‘fix’ my depression, but they so work as great distractions. My parents each had rounds of being hospitalized this summer, and they were away to take my mind off what was happing. So I guess for me they just help e focus on something else, and give me a ‘break’ from all the worries.

    I do think the publishers are over doing all there claims!
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  3. Love this. I’ve been hearing a lot about adult color books recently and I feel this the same way. People sometimes just take a good and simple thing and try to turn into something more. If people want to color – go ahead! But I don’t see why you need an adult coloring book to do that. Just buy some colored pencils and a find some paper… Adult color books do as much to cure anxiety/depression as being an artist who completes beautiful work does in my mind.

    Another analogy is saying music is a therapeutic way to mitigate depression and recommending adults purchase tiny keyboards with easy instructions to play chop sticks or the rugrats theme!

    Phew – you’ve got me all riled up – I’ll just here before I go on with a novel length analogy haha.
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  4. That’s a great point of view. I’ve never bought one and not planning to. I think it’s silly to put boundaries and limits on creativity. I think even kids break from colouring books at some point because it no longer satisfies their need for expression.

    I think it’s sad that the producers of colouring books are taking advantage of all the benefits that meditation and mindfulness has to offer.

    On the other hand I find drawing very meditative. Art brut / outsider art is a great example of emotion expressions through art.

    1. Yes, you’re right. Outsider art or Art Brut is a great example! I always find it amusing how people are so quick to jump on bandwagons. I know I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past. It’s a contagious phenomenon that’s easy to give into for some reason.

      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment!

  5. This is really interesting and I’m glad you wrote it. I kind of thought the adult coloring book thing was silly when I first heard about it. I agree that it’s not a creative engagement but simply a relaxing one at best. However, when I saw an old-school style tattoo coloring book I had to have it. I just loved the images. I’ve colored it only a few times and I have to say- the anxiety I have over always doing a good job pretty much took the relaxation out of the process. I know it’s just a coloring book but why do it if it’s not done well! And so, my OCD manifests itself as usual. Oh well, I tried ?

    1. Thanks April, I completely agree. I’m sure there are people out there who don’t obsess about the perfection of it all. But I’m with you! My mom always told me that “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” And unfortunately coloring is not excluded from that. But hey, for whomever it helps, good for them!

      Old-school style tattoo coloring book does sound cool though! I have to say, I probably wouldn’t be able to pass one of those up either! Lol.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Have a great week!

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