Friday, August 07, 2015

Experts Warn Adult Coloring Books Are Not Art Therapy

As an art therapist and author of adult coloring books, I anticipated this subject being broached at some point, especially since some coloring books are titles with "Art Therapy" in their name.  Coloring most definitely has its benefits, in allowing people to de-stress and calm themselves in an easily accessible manner.  But as I have made clear in many interviews, coloring is good for everyday maintenance, but it is not clinical art therapy and is not a substitute for professional help when needed.


 Sarah Cascone, Friday, August 7, 2015

An adult coloring book. Photo: Passion for Pencils, YouTube screenshot.
An adult coloring book. 
Photo: Passion for Pencils, YouTube screenshot.

Experts are questioning the therapeutic benefits of adult coloring books, one of 2015's biggest and perhaps most-unexpected art trends, widely touted for its stress-relieving benefits.

According to Jo Kelly, president the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association, however, adult coloring books are no replacement for an in-the-flesh art therapist.

"An arts therapist is a qualified, trained individual who helps people and uses creative processes," insisted Kelly to ABC. She admits that by encouraging people to set time aside for their own enjoyment, adult coloring books have their benefits, "but to sort of suggest that it's a sort of creative art expression, you're actually using other people's designs—why not make your own?"

Color Me Stress Free. Photo: courtesy Race Point Publishing.
Color Me Stress Free. 
Photo: courtesy Race Point Publishing.

Publisher's Weekly traces the current popularity of coloring books for adults back to 2012, when Art-thérapie: 100 Coloriages anti-stress, by Hachette Pratique, was published in France. The first book to really hit the mainstream, however, was Johanna Basford's Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt & Coloring Book, currently Amazon's number one best-seller in self-help books.

The follow-up from the so-called "queen of coloring," Enchanted Forest, was released in February, and a third volume, Lost Ocean, is slated for an October release. Even fantasy author George R.R. Martin is getting in on the action, with plans to release a Game of Thrones coloring book.

"We've never seen a phenomenon like it in our thirty years of publishing. . . . Just can't keep them in print fast enough," Lesley O'Mara, the managing director Michael O'Mara Books, which has no less than 24 adult coloring book titles, told the New Yorker.

An illustration from Johanna Basford's Enchanted Forest. Photo: Johanna Basford.
An illustration from Johanna Basford's Enchanted Forest. 
Photo: Johanna Basford.

The San Jose Mercury News recently counted coloring books as part of an "ever-growing list of kid things co-opted by adults (video games, mini golf, Legos, Pez dispensers)," but adult coloring books are often marketed based on their therapeutic value.

There is Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book, and Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns, Amazon's top seller in Graphic Design Color Use. The Zen Coloring Book series, which includes Color Me Happy and Color Me Calm, is actually authored by art therapist Lacy Mucklow, with art by Angela Porter.

"We imagined the books would appeal to adults looking to relax. But we never expected the responses we've received from people battling serious medical conditions," editorial director Jeannine Dillon told PW of the Zen series, which sold over 275,000 copies over just six months this year.

Susanne Fincher, art therapist and author of the Coloring Mandalas series, sees coloring books as a useful supplement to art therapy treatment. They "can empower a client to manage thoughts and feelings on their own with the positive activity of coloring, instead of, for example, overeating or abusing substances," she said to CNN.

Coloring a postcard by adult coloring book queen Johanna Basford. Photo: Susan Tripp Pollard, courtesy Bay Area News Group.
Coloring a postcard by adult coloring book queen Johanna Basford. 
Photo: Susan Tripp Pollard, courtesy Bay Area News Group.

The PTSD Survivors of America, in particular, have embraced the trend, hosting a nationwide "Color Across America for PTSD Awareness" event on August 2, National Coloring Book Day.

Erin Maynard, the organization's president, credits coloring books with counteracting the hyperactivity of the region of the brain called the amygdala, which controls the fear response. "Coloring actually reduces the activity of the amygdala, so that's part of the reason that it helps calm you down," she told the Lancaster Bee.

"Adult coloring is absolutely a growing trend and consumers are really taking to the idea," Matthew Lore, of the Experiment publishing group, which released The Mindfulness Colouring Book in January, said to CNN. "Not only is it calming and good for your health, it's just fun!"

But how much can coloring books really do for your mental well-being?

"It's a nice technique really that some art therapists sometimes use as a way to get started with someone, but art therapy is a lot more involved than that," Jane O'Sullivan, who runs the masters in mental health program at the University of Queensland warned ABC. "I think if someone was to say coloring-in books are art therapy, [that] is not accurate."

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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Carl Jung’s Psychological Diagnosis Using Mandalas

Mandalas have been used in many ancient cultures like Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American, Australian Aboriginal as a symbol of the universe and wholeness. Literally speaking, mandala is a geometrical form – a square or a circle – abstract and static, or a vivid image formed of objects and/or beings. It’s a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our connection with the infinite. 

Interestingly, Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, explored the psychological effects of mandalas, while studying Eastern religion. He is credited with introducing the Eastern concept of the mandala to Western thought and believed its symbolic of the inner process by which individuals grow toward fulfilling their potential for wholeness. 

According to Jung, “In such cases it is easy to see how the severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder of the psychic state– namely through the construction of a central point to which everything is related, or by a concentric arrangement of the disordered multiplicity and of contradictory and irreconcilable elements. This is evidently an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.” 

Jung used mandalas in his psychotherapy by getting patients, who had no knowledge of it, to create individual mandalas. This enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality. 

He realised there was a great deal of similarity in the images they created. “In view of the fact that all the mandalas shown here were new and uninfluenced products, we are driven to the conclusion that there must be a transconscious disposition in every individual which is able to produce the same or very similar symbols at all times and in all places. Since this disposition is usually not a conscious possession of the individual I have called it the collective unconscious, and, as the basis of its symbolical products, I postulate the existence of primordial images, the archetypes.” 

Mandala is like a design that triggers something within us, a sacred geometry in which we recognise our self and our place in the cosmos. It is an ancient and fundamental relationship from which we have strayed and the mandala is the key that can help us return to it. Especially, when the inner self is challenged by ego, harmony has to be restored. During such times, mandalas can guide you to listen to the inner voice and find yourself. Like Jung stated, “It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation.” 

Image source Jung currents Jung and the Mandalas

Mandalas represent connection with the infinite 

carl jung first mandala 
Carl Jung’s first Mandala

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 Carl Jung's First Mandala

carl jung used mandalas to treat his patients

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Happy National Coloring Day!

By Amy Kuperinsky | NJ Advance Media for
 Email the author | Follow on Twitter
 on July 31, 2015 at 10:08 AM, updated July 31, 2015 at 11:39 AM

Good news for those who grew up with elementary amusements like crayons and coloring books — you know, instead of digital doohickies like tablets and smartphones. They're ba-ack.

Just in time for the first National Coloring Book Day on August 2, coloring for adults is not only acceptable — it's trendy. Funnily enough, to those who spend most days "staying inside the lines" at work, coloring (inside the lines, or out) has proven a welcome escape.

Zen Coloring Books' 'Color Me Happy.' (Race Point Publishing) 

Though a pretty page may be the ultimate prize, the value of coloring can be found in the process itself. Many adult colorers, who are buying up these books in New Jersey and across the country, vouch for the power of the creative ritual to distract from daily stress and electronic overload.

"I view coloring as a simplified version of art therapy, almost as like a meditative behavior," says Francine Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist in Parsippany.

Of course, coloring books are historically associated with crayon-carrying children filling in pages adorned with images of their favorite cartoon characters. But Rosenberg says coloring can legitimately function as an "active" form of meditation, one that involves a physical activity, like origami or yoga.

"You're focusing on this one thing and the rest of the world starts to melt away," she says.

Since 2012, more than 3 million coloring books have been sold from Creative Haven, a line from Dover Publications, the company sponsoring the coloring book day.

Dover, a company based in Mineola, N.Y., published "Antique Automobiles Coloring Book," its first book for adults and more experienced artists, in 1970. Today, its Creative Haven collection, part of a stable of 150 coloring books, includes edgier picks like "Steampunk Designs" and "Modern Tattoo Designs." In 2014, the company published a Grumpy Cat coloring book. The tagline: "Color outside the lines? Good."

There are also classic themes like flowers and geometric shapes. Some of the pages are printed on translucent paper vellum, to mimic the look of stained glass when held up to a window. Pages are "perfed out," meaning they can easily be torn out for display, or printed on one side only, on heavier stock than the grainy coloring books of yore, says Ken Katzman, Dover's vice president of marketing.

While coloring can be a very solo activity, it can also work very well with social media — and socializing in general.

"We have thousands of people in the coloring community," Katzman says. They use hashtags to share their work on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as meet in person.

"People get together to do coloring in the way they do book clubs," he says. The sense of camaraderie in following an art directive parallels other trendy stress killers, like paint and sip studios where friends and family meet for wine and easels.

Since coloring can be such a universal activity, the range of adult colorers varies. A college student looking to unwind during final exams. A hospital patient in rehab trying to strengthen motor skills. A 9-to-5'er pouring a glass of wine after work.

People would like to be creative and they just don't know how to go about it. The work of Susan Bloomenstein, a graphic artist from Englewood, can be seen in both Creative Haven and Dover coloring books.

"I like visualizing what people can do with them," she says. She says she's noticed the surge in the popularity of the books, both on Pinterest and Instagram, where people post their finished pages, and through fan mail.

Bloomenstein says she's been wowed by how those who use her designs transform them completely, simply through the use of color and shading. All they needed was a pattern.  "People would like to be creative and they just don't know how to go about it," she says.

As for the relaxation potential of coloring, the actual idea of de-stressing is the theme of some coloring books.

One selection from Art Therapy transports its audience to an "enchanted forest," while another uses Buddha himself to guide you to artistic nirvana. Mandalas — designs of Hindu and Buddhist tradition that symbolize the universe and act as meditation aids — are a hot theme for coloring books, too. Zen-brand coloring books have titles like "Color Me Happy" and "Color Me Calm," boasting 100 pages of therapeutic scenes.

"Just on Monday, I went to see a patient in the waiting room and there she was, just coloring in a coloring book," says Francine Rosenberg, psychologist at the Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany.

That particular patient said coloring helped allay her anxiety, but Rosenberg sees the practice as a helpful tool in any effort to relax.

A Buddhism-themed coloring book from Art Therapy. (Jacqui Small LLP) 

Plus, it doesn't hurt that coloring, a mainstay of childhood, may conjure memories of more carefree times, Rosenberg says. Memories potent enough to power a wave of creative nostalgia.

"In the last six months, it's just exploded," says Lizzie Auer, a category buyer at Chicago-based Blick Art Materials.

"The number of adult coloring books that are out there right now has increased, like, tenfold. We're in the process of adding a lot right now."

For both hobbyists and more advanced artists, with adult coloring books, the more intricate the designs, the better, she says.

Katzman, from Dover Publications, says the popularity of adult coloring books spurred the company's addition of a line of Spark coloring books for children.

"Within the past few months we've been getting a lot of people coming in asking for coloring books," adds Philip D'Martino, a store associate at Blick's retail outlet in Paramus. "It started around Christmas time."

Auer says it probably helps that more adults are learning that it's socially permissible to color, and not just in idle doodle time, but on purpose, and for coloring's sake.

"Maybe they're less embarrassed about doing it," she says.

Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmyKup. Find Entertainment on Facebook.

Click below to download these coloring book pages


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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Iron Maiden Vocalist Engages in Music Therapy with Special Needs Children

You may have heard of Nordoff Robbins, a well-known music non-profit providing music therapy throughout the UK, and you may have heard of Bruce Dickinson, the singer for the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. The two partnered for a day of music therapy together, with Bruce sharing his musical knowledge with clients.

IRON MAIDEN's BRUCE DICKINSON Takes Part In Music Therapy Session With Special Needs Children

IRON MAIDEN singer Bruce Dickinson visited music charity Nordoff Robbins's London, England centre on June 22 to celebrate Music Therapy Week. 

 The Nordoff Robbins London Centre in Kentish Town is the world's largest dedicated music therapy centre. It aims to offer a broad range of music therapy and music services to meet the needs of as many different people in as many different circumstances as possible. Ir provides specialist piano, keyboard, singing and songwriting lessons for people with a disability, illness, emotional difficulties or other challenges; music groups for babies, toddlers and their parents; singing groups for children with autism and adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung conditions. 

During his visit, Bruce took part in a music therapy session with children from the Richard Cloudesley School, a special needs school in London, who have been bringing their children to Nordoff Robbins for music therapy for over 20 years. Bruce said: "I've always thought that music therapy makes sense, because music is a universal language, and it crosses every border, every disability. People just like making a racket and it's very fulfilling, especially if you can make a good racket with somebody. It's sharing, it's communicating, but it doesn't have to be in words." A short film about Bruce's visit to Nordoff Robbins's London, England centre can be seen above. 

 On July 3, IRON MAIDEN will be awarded the prestigious O2 Silver Clef by Nordoff Robbins in recognition of "outstanding contribution to U.K. music." Previous winners include THE ROLLING STONES, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, PINK FLOYD, GENESIS and QUEEN; last year's Silver Clef winner was Jimmy Page. Dickinson was recently given the all-clear after being diagnosed with a tumor on his tongue late last year. 

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Color Me Calm is #6 on Trade Paperback List!

Best-Selling U.S. Books

For the week ended June 14, compiled by Nielsen BookScan © 2015 the Nielsen Co.


1. Grey E.L. James. Vintage $16
2. The Martian Andy Weir. Broadway. $15
3. American Sniper (movie tie-in) Chris Kyle. Morrow. $16
4. I Am Malala Malala Yousafzai. LB/Back Bay. $16
5. Hope to Die James Patterson. Grand Central. $16
6. Color Me Calm Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter (illus.). Quarto/Race Point. $17
7. Leaving Time Jodi Picoult. Ballantine. $16
8. The Goldfinch Donna Tartt. LB/Back Bay. $20
9. The Vacationers Emma Straub. $16
10. Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel. Vintage. $16


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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Art Therapy for Chronic Illness

Many thanks to our guest writer Leslie Vandever from Healthline for this insightful article on the helpfulness of art therapy, and in particular coloring, as a way of managing and coping with chronic illness. 

Art Therapy for Chronic Illness

By Leslie Vandever
Art therapy is a form of mental health therapy--administered by certified art therapists--that includes the visual arts, like painting or sculpting. Art psychotherapists use it to help their disabled clients “explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem,” according to the American Art Therapy Association.
But recently, art therapy’s popularity has skyrocketed outside the clinical setting. Although the classification “art therapy” is debatable, many of today’s busy, stressed adults of all ages use a specific form of art therapy as a way to disconnect from today’s always-on, demanding, screen-centric, go-go-go world and just relax.
I’m one of them. I’ve joined many of my peers in adopting a beloved pastime of young children the world over: coloring. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But instead of coloring simple line drawings with crayons like we did as kids, we color complex, intricate drawings using colored pencils, gel pens, or even paints. Those of us who are more artistically inclined create our own, original drawings to color; all of them require thought and various levels of concentration. The idea is to spark long-dormant creativity and to savor the simple joy of doing something fun just because you can.
It’s only frivolous if you think constant, unrelieved stress is beneficial.
But I’m not a “healthy” adult. My stress starts in my body, not in my mind: a painful, incurable, chronic illness causes it: autoimmune rheumatoid disease (arthritis). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “as of 2012 [in the US], about half of all adults—117 million people—had one or more chronic health conditions.
One of four adults had two or more chronic health conditions.” Can “art therapy” help people with chronic illnesses, too? Yes! I know first-hand that creating art helps me cope with my disease. I believe it can help others, too.
Chronic illness (defined as any long-lasting illness that can be controlled but not cured) and chronic pain (persistent pain that lasts weeks to years) can cause devastating feelings of isolation; loss of self-esteem; constant, unrelieved stress; and depression. They include such incurable or intractable conditions as cancer, the rheumatic diseases, and neurological illnesses such as neuropathy or complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
I’ve had rheumatoid disease (RD) for almost 29 years. It causes frequent, often severe and disabling pain, fatigue, and malaise. But art therapy works as a sure-fire form of relaxation and stress relief for me. When I’m creating and coloring one of those intricate pictures (yes, I was an artist in another life) my mind is not on my disease.
Now, make no mistake: pain and illness that never really goes away is exceedingly difficult to ignore. It creeps into everything you do, affecting every aspect of your life. It’s no wonder that chronic pain and illness often goes hand-in-hand with terrible, disabling depression.
But when the mind is distracted from pain and worry, and focused on something pleasant, like creating art (and yes, coloring pictures is creating art), an amazing thing happens. It rests, cradled in a benign activity that soothes, comforts, and conjures up feelings of satisfaction, comfort, and yes, joy. The science behind it? Coloring uses both sides of the brain and relaxes the amygdala, the primitive, fight-or-flight center of the brain. It also stimulates the release of feel-good hormones and chemicals like endorphins and serotonin. While I color, my mind relaxes--and I rest.
I can’t always practice my therapy. Sometimes, my RD affects my wrists and hands, making it too painful to press colored pencils to paper. At those times, I turn to other forms of distraction: music I love, a good book, a good movie--or all three.
Whatever you want to call it--art therapy, distraction, or just having fun--coloring and other forms of creating visual art are good for everyone.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with 30 years of experience. She lives in Northern California.


● About Art Therapy. (n.d.) American Art Therapy Association. Retrieved on June 14, 2015 from
● What is Art Therapy? (2013) Art Therapy Without Borders. Retrieved on June 15, 2015 from
● Chronic Disease Overview. (2015, May 18) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on June 14, 2015 from
● Art Therapy. (n.d.) Retrieved on June 15, 2015 from

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adult Coloring Books Topping Bestseller Lists


Atop the Amazon bestselling books list this month sat an unexpected title: "Secret Garden." It wasn't Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 novel about a sour little girl's magical place, making a book club comeback. It was a similarly named coloring book that adults were buying, for themselves, and it wasn't the only one in the top 10. 

Johanna Basford's "Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt & Coloring Book" (now at No. 3 on Amazon) along with her second effort, "Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book" (No. 6); "Balance (Angie's Extreme Stress Menders Volume 1)" by Angie Grace (No. 9); and "The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress Art Therapy for Busy People" by Emma Farrarons (No. 8 on Amazon UK) are selling at a rapid clip. 

Though they can be used by kids, these and other new coloring book titles are being marketed to stressed-out, work-addled adults, who want to benefit from the quiet zen that a coloring session can bring. 

"Adult coloring is absolutely a growing trend and consumers are really taking to the idea," Farrarons' U.S. publisher, Matthew Lore of The Experiment publishing group, wrote in an email. "Not only is it calming and good for your health, it's just fun! The demand is increasing exponentially as the word spreads." 

While Farrarons and Basford are based in the UK, the concept is taking off in the U.S. too, with the publication of titles like Virginia-based art therapist Lacy Mucklow and illustrator Angela Porter's "Color Me Calm" and "Color Me Happy," created for the minds and motor skills of Mom and Dad, not the kids. The trend doesn't seem to be letting up. Basford is working on a third title, Farrarons has been commissioned for a second book, and Mucklow and Porter will release "Color Me Stress-Free" in September. 

Adults have long used crafts to unwind, but why coloring books? Why now? It may have something to do with online access -- and, funnily enough, the desire to unplug. Ordering a coloring book that suits adult tastes online is easier than walking into a bookstore where the only options have Barbie or Thomas the Tank Engine themes. Plus, everyone's favorite online crafting hub, Pinterest, is a treasure trove of adult coloring pages, with themes ranging from nature and animals to classic paintings. Meanwhile, like children, adults need a break from screen time -- and many are rediscovering the analog pleasures of coloring inside the lines. "I'm a grown-up, but I still love coloring books," novelist Matt Cain proclaimed in a piece for The Guardian. "If I switch off the phone, computer and TV and concentrate solely on choosing the right shade of blue, avoiding going over the lines and slowly filling up my page with colour, all my other concerns, I've discovered, fade to nothing," Cain wrote. 

The therapeutic benefits of art are nothing new; it's a concept that practitioners use with patients of all ages. Atlanta-based art therapist Susanne Fincher, who has published several coloring books, said coloring can lift the mood, reduce anxiety and relieve stress. "Art making is a powerful intervention," Fincher wrote in an email. "Neuroscientific research has shown that through the use of art therapy, the human brain can physically change, grow, and rejuvenate." True art therapy, she warned, should be administered only by a qualified professional. 

Mindfulness and meditative coloring are recurring themes in the growing adult coloring book industry. A search for "adult coloring books" on Amazon or Barnes and Noble will yield several books of mandalas, a ritual symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism that represents the universe, waiting to be colored in. 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military - Third National Summit at NIH

I was privileged to be invited to attend this summit about expressive therapies with the military, held at NIH at the end of February.  We heard about how helpful the arts therapies are with the military populations in all kinds of settings, including art therapy, music therapy, and poetry therapy.  There was agreement that these therapies need to be at the forefront of service members' treatment, but the largest obstacle is implementation.

Third National Summit: Advancing Research in the Arts for Health and Well-being Across the Military Continuum 

(on left) Melissa Walker, MA, ATR, Art Therapist/Healing Arts Program Coordinator at National Intrepid Center of Excellence, with the cover of National Geographic Magazine’s February, 2015 issue, featuring her work (and pictured with Donna Betts, PhD, ATR-BC, AATA President-Elect). 

PRESS RELEASE Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 1:50pm

March 11, 2015 /3BL Media/ - American Art Therapy Association delegates and art therapists who work with military service members proudly represented the art therapy profession at this recent event in Washington, DC. The National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military advances the arts in healthcare for veterans, service members, their families, and caregivers. The Summit is sponsored by Americans for the Arts and hosted by the NIH National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The day-long program examined the critical research needs impacting veterans, military service members, and their families in promoting health and well-being from pre-deployment to reintegration. 

 Centered on the evidence base addressing efficacy of the creative arts therapies in treating service members and veterans, presentations emphasized topics delineated in the NIAHM White Paper and Blueprint for Action. Dr. Donna Betts, ATR-BC, AATA President-Elect and George Washington University art therapy professor, co-conducted an engaging break-out session on “Arts-Based Research and Innovative Tools across Military/Veterans Settings.” This panel and discussion presented innovative programs designed to support military service members and veterans. Betts discussed her research with The Warrior Stories Platform, a Department of Defense DARPA-funded project that incorporates graphic novel authoring in computer format, integrated into art therapy clinical treatment planning for veterans with PTSD. Discussion focused on how such projects can inform practice and research and support collaborations across military treatment facilities and VA clinical settings. 

 Cynthia Woodruff, AATA’s Executive Director, was proud to be in the company of art therapists dedicated to serving our military service members, including Melissa Walker (NICoE), Jackie Biggs (Fort Belvoir), Rosemarie Rogers (VA Hudson Valley), Laura Spinelli (VA Connecticut Healthcare), and Rebekah Wiggins (Charles George VA Medical Center). The AATA successfully represented the profession of art therapy at this important event, which clearly signifies increasing public awareness of credentialed and board-certified art therapists as uniquely equipped to treat the mental health needs of our service members. About the American Art Therapy Association 
The American Art Therapy Association, Inc. (AATA) is an organization of professionals dedicated to the belief that making art is healing and life enhancing. Its mission is to serve its members and the general public by providing standards of professional competence and developing and promoting knowledge in, and of, the field of art therapy. 

For more information, please visit

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Interview with Canada's "The Globe and Mail" about coloring books for adults

The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Feb. 11 2015, 1:28 PM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Feb. 11 2015, 2:28 PM EST

Excerpts from Lynda Barry's SYLLABUS art workbook for adults. (Courtesy Drawn and Quarterly) 

Drawing patterns has long been used as a meditation aid and, more recently, in art therapy to help dementia patients and the elderly with cognition, engagement and expression. But colouring books marketed to adults as a salve for the stresses of daily life fall into a relatively new and growing category. 

In April, the British Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology published a study detailing the benefits of creative activity on employee performance for people working in high-pressure, demanding environments. By the fall, Hachette published a number of its wildly popular Pratique Art-Thérapie colouring books in English in North America. 

In addition to Hachette’s oft-cited coloriages of soothing mosaics, leafy gardens and paisleys – which outsell many of the publisher’s cookbook titles – there’s a glut of new Dover Publications featuring royalty-free historical drawings of classic cars, ships and fine art. The Creative Haven imprint is putting out Art Nouveau patterns, butterflies and stained glass panels ready for adult colourers, and Toronto’s own Team Art publishes a series of tongue-in-cheek minis with original illustrations based on pop culture hits ranging from Parks and Recreation and Game of Thrones to One Direction and Beyoncé. 

Whether it’s abstract techellations and mandala patterns or Nelson Mandela and Hillary Clinton caricatures, the physicality of pressing sharpened pencil point to paper is the whole point of colouring books for so-called grown-ups. It’s not adult meaning “adult content” – although in that vein, there are as many fetish and erotic offerings as there are political ones. 

 The newest Amazon bestsellers in the genre are last fall’s Color Me Happy and Color Me Calm, written by licensed American art therapist Lacy Mucklow and illustrated by Angela Porter. [...]  “We are currently a society that is so digitally minded that people are needing time to unplug more than ever,” Mucklow explains via e-mail. “Colouring uses both hemispheres of the brain – both the analytical and creative halves – and has a relaxing effect on it overall, especially in the amygdala, the emotional centre.” 

The scenes and subjects in her books were chosen to evoke feelings of well-being. “Colouring also connects with us on an emotional, visceral level,” Mucklow says. Not having to worry about what image to compose in the first place helps her patients bypass any “artist’s block” or perceived lack of skill, providing immediate stress relief. The only decision is what colours to use. 

Although the book can’t replace professional therapy, Mucklow says the cost-effective nature and convenience of colouring books can provide a helpful everyday outlet for stress. 

Colouring in a non-professional context can be a restorative physical act that focuses on the effect of the process, not its finished product. This angle is figuratively and rather literally a page from the philosophy of award-winning cartoonist (and enthusiastic creative force) Lynda Barry, author of What It Is, a graphic novel memoir cum scrapbook cum writing guide, and its creative-drawing companion Picture This

An assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin, Barry most recently published Syllabus. As both its title and composition book design suggest, it’s a loose-limbed reproduction of the creative curriculum from her class The Unthinkable Mind at the school’s Image Lab. 

One homework exercise prescribes time spent in three different modes: colouring in silence, colouring while listening to an interview with British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist about the divided brain (the link is accessible on Barry’s Tumblr) and colouring while doing something else entirely (like watching TV or socializing). The different conditions help people observe the different ways their brains work, which Barry calls “the biological effect of art.” 

Montreal-based artist Sarah Mangle has sold more than 1,000 copies of The Affirmations Colouring Book since self-publishing it last fall. “I’m not a digital artist – I still draw pencil to paper,” says Nova Scotia-born Mangle, who drew her colouring book’s 100 pet portraits and affirmations last year while laid up with a serious knee injury. “It really is a tactile thing. I like how the paper feels, how the pencil or marker or crayon smells. It’s a real and physical experience – more than screen time.”

The book is carried at local bookstores from Vancouver to Halifax and on Mangle’s Etsy page; she’s shipped individual orders as far as France and Switzerland. 

An early childhood educator by day, Mangle says what she didn’t expect “is that therapists buy it, for their practices, for adults. And then other people are buying it because they have adult friends who have a hard time. Other friends have bought it for their kids but are colouring it together. It’s something people find calms them down. It’s a beautiful thing.” 

A moment of Zen, in shades of Burnt Sienna.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

The Arts Teach Important Skills...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saori Weaving as an intervention for persons with disabilities

Brandy Godsil, an artist and weaver, brought to my attention a project on which she is working, using Saori Weaving as a form of aiding autism, as well as other disabilities, with textile art.   She started working with her adult autistic brother to help him using this form of weaving.  Loop of the Loom, the studio where she works, is organizing an event to be funded via Kickstarter.  The proceeds from the event will go towards creating a nonprofit weaving organization in the USA, since this weaving method began in Japan and is already being used to help people with disabilities there.  Check out their Kickstarter campaign to consider contributing to help make this event happen and help people through a textile form of art therapy. The campaign will end on January 7th, so consider your pledge soon!

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Adventures in Art Therapy makes another Top 50 List!

Through some random poking around on the internet, I found my blog again listed in the Expressive Art Inspirations list of Top 50 Art Therapy Blogs.  This page was listed as #23, under Blogs by Art Therapists.  Very cool, thanks!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The power of art therapy with wounded warriors

Another fine interview with my art therapy colleague and supervisee, Jackie Biggs, and the fantastic work that she is doing in her pioneered and established art therapy program at the NICoE via a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

NEA Arts Magazine 

By Don Ball and Rebecca Gross 

 Air Force troop drawing on paper.
Air Force Master Sergeant Earl Covel working on an art piece at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. 

“There’s always somebody who’s got it worse than you,” said Master Sergeant Earl I. Covel, talking about his 12 overseas combat deployments as a member of the Special Operations Tactical Air Control team. “If you just got a little bit of shrapnel, you don’t want to get medevaced out. You suck it up. It was more important to stay with my team. I let a series of incidents compound on each other. I let them accumulate. You can only fix Humpty Dumpty so many times before it can’t be fixed any further.” When he returned to work at the Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, he found that the toll wasn’t just physical, but psychological. “I was such a shell, getting progressively harder and harder,” said Covel. “I was shut off from my family and my friends. I was becoming more reclusive.”

In addition to meeting with psychiatrists and social workers, he began working with Melissa Walker, the creative arts therapist at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He then transferred to the NICoE satellite location at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia, where he resumed treatment with art therapist Jackie Biggs. 

Woman at table drawing on paper.
Creative arts therapist Jackie Biggs at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence satellite location at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

The Creative Arts Therapy program at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital—a state-of-the-art hospital designed to be an instrument of healing, hope, discovery, and learning for service members and their families—was started in September 2013 through a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Fort Belvoir program uses visual and literary arts to treat military service members dealing with psychological health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The program is administered as an outpatient clinic so that the therapy can continue on a long-term basis, without patients having to leave their units or families for extended periods of time. 

Although art had brought Covel joy in his youth—he frequently drew and participated in his school’s drama program—he initially rejected art therapy, and didn’t participate in the first few sessions. “I was in a totally different place at my life,” he said. “I wasn’t allowing myself to have any enjoyment at that time.” Eventually, with gentle prodding by Walker, Covel began to create, and the walls he had carefully built to block out both people and memories began to tumble down. “I found art was more a vessel that allowed me to open up to the world,” he said.  One of the reasons Biggs believes patients like Covel find success in art therapy is the effect it can have on the stress hormone cortisol. “Engaging in art-making is inherently relaxing,” Biggs said. “It has been shown to decrease cortisol so people become relaxed, their anxiety goes down, and they feel more comfortable.” Feeling comfortable and less anxious is especially important in therapy for military service members, many of whom have been in high-stress situations for much of their careers, and are trained to be hyper-vigilant of their surroundings. “Patients can walk in here really angry, really frustrated with something that happened on their way in, and as they’re engaged in art making you’ll see them calm down. And when they leave, they’ll make comments like, ‘This is like medicine. I feel way better.’” 

The service members Biggs works with exhibit “moral dilemmas and existential topics and shame and guilt, and survivor’s guilt, and, a lot of times, fear of one’s self.” In addition, Biggs’s patients often engage in isolating behaviors, which can make them feel further estranged and out-of-synch with society. Biggs combats this with group art therapy sessions, as well as by hanging patient artwork along the walls of the art room. “The writing’s on the wall in the artwork that they’re not alone, and that other people are dealing with these things internally,” she said. Of course, the goal is to eventually externalize these internal struggles. As service members create and then describe their work, they often find themselves discussing an incident or emotion that they’ve repressed for years, whether intentionally or not. “Sometimes patients call it trick therapy,” Biggs noted. “We’re not really tricking them, but just getting beneath the surface in a different way…. Sometimes patients wind up feeling so overwhelmed that it’s hard to sort through what exactly is overwhelming them and what really is underlying all those emotions. Through creating the artwork and then talking about it later, they’re usually able to identify and pinpoint really what’s underlying what’s going on, and what they can target in therapy moving forward.” 

Biggs noted that for many patients, talking about artwork is often easier than engaging in a face-to-face “stare down” with a psychologist or psychiatrist, which can put people on guard and raise their defenses. Instead, Biggs tries to work around the inner censors that patients may have put in place. “Patients are encouraged to be really spontaneous and follow their gut and really engage in intuitive art-making,” she said. “I think that combination of de-stress, relaxing, and spontaneity often results in artworks that shed light on the subconscious.” For Covel, the art therapy program helped him “to visualize something that’s in my head and to process something into words,” he said. “I’m not somebody who likes to write things down. I’m not a person who likes to outwardly talk. And I guess that’s why I want my art to be perfect is because I want it to be self-expressive where it should answer all the questions.”

 Collage artwork.
MSgt Covel’s artwork How Much Does a Hero Cost? 

One of his artworks, "How Much Does a Hero Cost?," is a collage-piece inside a recycled fruit box. “I have a thing, maybe it’s because I grew up in Portland, Oregon, that I like to recycle things. I try to do that as much as possible with my art.” Inside the box is a collage, with a picture of Covel at the center, and other photos of him hidden among the images. Overlaid on the collage are two foam-cut pistols pasted with either negative or positive words. “There’s kind of a yin-yang sort of thing going on with the pistols in there,” said Covel. “Just making those pistols alone with the words took me a really long time. It was emotionally draining just to do the semi-positive one. I had to force myself to do that one, because that was at the beginning of our therapy. I was in a place that I did not feel real highly of myself. But at the end I was able to breathe a bit of relief and know that in the end, things were done for a reason in that given moment. It doesn’t necessarily make me a bad guy.” 

Covel was working on a self-portrait as he came close to his impending retirement from the service. “Jackie suggested that since I’m retiring that I create something to kind of culminate my career. I always jokingly said I wanted a big, cheesy velvet painting like they have of the generals, like me on a big white steed and everything, with a sword, and hang it above my fireplace. That’ll probably never happen, but Jackie suggested that I come up with something, so I thought I’d give it a shot.” So Covel began working on the piece, drawing and using watercolors. “It’s supposed to be me in my service dress uniform. I’m going to pencil draw it. The decorations are actually in watercolor that I’m going to have bleed down when I have the watercolor. I’m going to have a saying go across the whole thing: ‘The soldier may leave the valley, but the valley never leaves the soldier.’” 

Portrait of a soldier.
Portrait of a soldier. MSgt Covel talks about the self-portrait he is working on. 

Even when the piece is finished, Covel doesn’t plan on putting down his paintbrush. “I look at it as an ongoing process,” he said. “Art has been given back to me. It’s been a gift. I’ll get to take this with me and utilize it to process anything in the future.” 

All photos by Sally Gifford

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Some art therapy techniques you can try to de-stress

10 Easy Art Therapy Techniques To Help You De-Stress

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Color Me Calm and Color Me Happy Are Here!

After over a year of working and waiting, I am proud to announce my first published books that came out simultaneously on October 27th.  They are coloring books for adults entitled "Color Me Calm" and "Color Me Happy," published by Race Point Publishing.  I authored the text and the content, with each book broken down into themed chapters of things that are commonly associated with calming people or boosting their mood.  Angela Porter did a fantastic job illustrating my artistic suggestions for each chapter to give everyone dozens of pictures to color.  They are great to use for yourself, for friends or family, or with your clients.  Even in pre-order, "Color Me Calm" has already made it as a #1 Bestseller on Amazon, and "Color Me Happy" is not far behind at #2. 

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Coloring helps adults to de-stress

An interesting article that came out about the therapeutic benefits of coloring, just in time before the release of my coloring books for adults.

Coloring Isn't Just For Kids. 

It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Art from Dreams by Susan Levin

Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage, and Poetry
By Susan Levin

Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey inCollage, Assemblage, and Poetry is a new book released in September 2014 that covers one woman’s experience in processing her dreams through artwork and poetry.  Susan Levin is an artist from Los Angeles, and as she wondered what her dreams meant and went through Jungian analysis, she decided to further explore her dreams by creating large pieces of found object sculpture, collage, and assemblage pieces as themes began to arise. 

After a very brief introduction and foreward to the book, the first section is entitled “My Jungian Dreams,” and included pictures of her artwork from this process, and all are paired with poems that she later wrote to go with the dream/artwork.  Her titles invoke the images of Jungian archetypes, such as mother, fate, home, mandalas, and even a dream including Picasso.  Levin’s poetry is short and to the point, and gives, to some extent, illumination to the artwork.  Certain artworks are more self-explanatory than other pieces, and Levin uses a variety of materials to make up her sculptures and collages, oftentimes in a shadowbox style but in others, she is more whimsical using items such as rusted saws or wood palettes. 

Part Two of the book is entitled “Nocturnes,” and included artwork about her continuing dreams.  However, there is no poetry associated with these works of art, and there is no particular Jungian association or analysis with these, though more familiar images such as mandalas or archetypal images appear.  Levin has titled them, given the dimensions and materials, but no other information is written in the second section.  In her artwork throughout the book, she often uses large found objects, things that might be found in an antique store or flea market, or even perhaps just thrown out for trash.  However, she repurposes them in often very orderly and compositionally pleasing arrangements. 

Dreams and artwork are both very personal things, and the poetry included in the book adds a depth to both for the viewer to take in and decipher and interpret as they see things through their own lens.  The book is nicely bound, and has an aesthetically pleasing layout of the beautiful photographs of Levin’s artwork.  However, as an art therapist who is trained to study and to interpret art (to a certain degree), I would have been very interested to hear Levin’s thoughts on her own work.  The only text throughout the book is in the introduction and foreword, and the titles and information for the artwork.  It is a book merely for viewing and is somewhat open-ended as to what each reader/viewer would take away from the visuals.  Even if Levin did not feel comfortable getting into any details about her dreams and the artwork and poetry related to them, which I would find entirely understandable, I would still have been interested in reading about her process in creating them, what it was like for her as she created her pieces, and even what she felt after she finished.  Insights that she may have gained would have been intriguing for me to hear about, to know how the art helped illuminate the concepts, archetypes, ideas, and symbols that she was consciously or unconsciously representing. 

Overall, I found the book intriguing in its concept and beautifully presented.  However, being a therapist as well as an artist, I felt wanting more to learn beyond the artwork, which was left only in the view of the beholder.  Though I have training in interpreting certain trends in artwork, one of the emphases I put in my work with my clients is that first and foremost I learn about it from the creator before I rely on my interpretive impressions, and so I found myself looking for this aspect as well in this book so that I could learn what the art meant to Levin herself.  For instance, the mandalas that she included I could analyze through the Great Round of Mandala Theory from Joan Kellogg to give myself a better grasp on what Levin was capturing in her art, but I also would have loved to hear her thoughts and meanings behind it as well.  The art’s connection to Jungian theory could be inferred to certain extent, but further exploration or explanation could be more enlightening to those who are interested in discovering more for themselves and seeing someone else’s journey that they took the time to document both in art and in print. 

Regardless, I hope that this book can inspire others to pursue art as a means for self-exploration and self-expression, whether it is for dream analysis or other pursuit such as to express feelings, introspection, or inner processing.  Levin’s example of taking the time to go beyond Jungian analysis alone into her talent and motivation to create art for a greater understanding can be a source of inspiration to would-be artists around the world.

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