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Cutting Stress with Coloring Books: Art Therapy or Just a Marketing Ploy?

Cutting Stress with Coloring Books: Art Therapy or Just a Marketing Ploy?

A new craze is sweeping France: adult coloring-books. But is this really helping people or is just making money for publishing houses?

The coloring-books, which primarily seem aimed at women, are billed as stress fighters and mood elevators or, in some cases, art therapy — and when I say this is big business, I’m not exaggerating.

Reports the Telegraph:

Seven of the current 15 best-selling titles in the “practical” category are colouring books, which now shift faster than cookbooks in France, according to trade publication Livres Hebdo.

Five of them are in the massively popular “Art Therapie – 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress” series by Hachette, which offers “psychedelic”, “medieval art”, or “extraordinary garden” pictures to colour.


Publishers say that marketing their works as stress-busters has been wildly successful.

There is definitely a call for some kind of innovative solution to mental health issues because France currently leads the world in terms of the sheer number of people who are taking anti-depressants. We might be able to pass some of that off as doctors over-prescribing, and that definitely is a problem, but there is still a concern that when it comes to anxiety, depression and general stress levels, the French appear to be suffering more than most nations. So that raises the question, is coloring-in as “art therapy” an answer?

The people using it clearly think it is, with one coloring-book aficionado telling the press, “I realized that coloring makes my headaches go away. I concentrate, my breathing slows down and I move into a deep calm.”

If that’s true, what could we possibly object to about it, then? It’s not really the coloring books themselves that are the issue, but how they’re being marketed.

Art therapy is a method of using art, dance, music and other mediums to engage with people who have a variety of conditions, be they physical or mental. In particular it may be useful for helping children with mental and social disadvantages begin to communicate more effectively with the outside world. The therapy is always conducted by a licensed professional and, like all therapy should, is done with strict therapeutic goals and guidelines.

Some people sneer at the notion of art therapy. True, there isn’t an abundance of scientific data on the efficacy of this practice. That’s due in part to the relatively new uptake on this kind of therapy, but there are some small studies that say that art therapy can be useful to support treating a range of mental health problems and chronic illnesses (like cancer) where improving well-being is paramount to overall treatment success.

So if art therapy works, what’s wrong with selling these coloring books to people suffering from stress and depression? Surely, it’s a good thing.

The main issue with selling these coloring books as “art therapy” or as “treatments” for anxiety/depression is that it’s misleading. As you’ll note from the description above, art therapy involves a qualified therapist using art as a medium to help patients start to uncover and work through the source of their mental or physical health problems. Users of these books are not getting that professional help or guidance. They’re being sold what essentially appears to be a meditative experience that, yes, may relax them and help them fight stress — and by itself there’s nothing wrong with that.

Yet, if the books are being packaged in misleading ways that could make people believe they are actually getting a medical treatment or are able to buy a “therapy” that will cure them of their mood disorder or depressive state, that is wrong. Sadly, that appears to be how some publishers are packaging these books, and that is definitely coloring outside the lines of responsibility.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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2:48PM PDT on Jul 11, 2014

Thanks for sharing

9:57AM PDT on Jul 11, 2014

I´ve always loved coloring, so :)

3:39PM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

I personally find coloring relaxing, and if it helps others too then I'm all for it.

2:40PM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

always loved coloring

1:13PM PDT on Jul 9, 2014


9:49AM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

This post is a bit of a joke. The French are smart enough to know the difference between a relaxing activity and full-on therapy.

7:51AM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

interesting article. I love drawing :)

4:22AM PDT on Jul 9, 2014


4:21AM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

thanks, good to know

8:19PM PDT on Jul 8, 2014


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