Out On The Couch
Coloring Books in Therapy
Coloring books aren’t just for children anymore: adult coloring books have gained great popularity in the last few years. They have been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression; increase perseverance; and provide short-term stress relief (Eaton & Tieber, 2017; Flett et al., 2017; Rajendran et al., 2020; Simmons, 2016). Adult coloring books have also been used to promote relaxation, help people unplug from technology, and even increase socialization in groups (Blackburn & Chamley, 2016). Many adult coloring books have themes similar to those designed for children: whimsical scenes in forests and the ocean, cute animals, or meditative images like mandalas.
As therapists, we need to be mindful about what we keep in our offices and how we utilize the tools we have on hand. Fortunately, the reaction in my office to the five affirmative coloring books I was given the opportunity to review and use has been overwhelmingly positive. These books, which include Butch Lesbians from the 20s, 30s, and 40s; Butch Lesbians from the 50s, 60s, and 70s; Transgender Heroes; Queer Heroes; and Resistance: The LGBT Fight Against Fascism in WWII, were created to provide education about the history of the LGBTQIA+ community in a fun and creative way.
Since I brought the coloring books into my office, clients commented on how safe they felt coming in. Several have mentioned the sense of inclusivity that seeing one of these books on the coffee table or on my bookshelf imparted. Some clients travel a good distance to see me, and will often bring a partner along to get a meal together after therapy. I have walked out of my office after a session to find a client’s partner with one of these books–either coloring it or reading the historic facts about the individuals featured.
Clients with children have commented on their appreciation of these coloring books, too, as their children sometimes use the books while the clients are in session. Some clients have asked where they can find similar books, whose educational aspect they welcome, as they want to expose their children to history that includes more than solely cisgender and heterosexual people.
One transgender client teared up when they saw the Transgender Heroes coloring book, expressing appreciation that it included a wide cross-section of transgender community members rather than focusing in on only certain gender identities and expressions. The book’s representation of trans male and non-binary characters, in addition to that of trans women, makes for a genuinely inclusive experience that one may not always find in other forms of media.
I recommend these coloring books for any clinician who wants to make their office a safer and more inclusive space, as well as for educating the general public about LGBTQIA+ history and individuals. The books are not recommended for individuals with sensory processing disorders who do not like the feeling of paper on their skin. I would love to see coloring books published that are geared specifically toward gay men, femme lesbians, or pan- and bisexual individuals, as well as ones that focus on alternative relationships and sexual practices such as polyamory, relationship anarchy, and kink.
LGBT Resistance: COVID-19 and WWII Parallels
I took these coloring books home from my waiting room and perused them at more length in order to finish writing this article after COVID began. I particularly enjoyed flipping through Resistance: The LGBT Fight Against Fascism in WWII. As someone with an interest in history and some newfound free time, I spent quite a while reading the stories of numerous activists highlighted in this book. Their stories are not ones that we commonly see in our history books or discuss in our history classes. Although each biography is short–about a page and a half for each person–it brings to light every figure’s individual relationships within the context of history.
For example, the tale of Charlotte Wolff, a Jewish psychotherapist, sexologist, and palm reader living in Nazi Germany, was far more humanizing in this format. From her short biography, I learned about her falling in love with an artist named Lisa, who later broke up with her. In 1931, she was warned by the Nazi government to stop her work on women’s reproductive health services, and in 1932 her lover of nine years left her because by then, it was dangerous to be associated with Jews in Germany.
This intermixing of the personal and political dialogue during WWII is intriguing and particularly relevant as we experience the current global pandemic. Our politics, our health, and our personal lives are all entwined; wars and pandemics do not stop breakups, heartache, trauma processing, grieving, or food insecurity, nor do they stop the celebrations of graduations, pregnancies, new love, weddings, or home ownership–although they can make these things more difficult to celebrate. We may forget that these things were still happening when we learn about WWII or any other major historical event. But now we are living through a worldwide crisis ourselves, and are learning new ways in which to grieve or celebrate our personal amidst the political.
As a bisexual therapist navigating the personal and political intersections of my own identities, I have had to balance discussions about politics, health and safety, and personal relationships with all of my clients. These are intertwined, as they had been for the people written about in these coloring books. We may forget about the personal lives of activists from history, and we rarely learn of the very real relationships, emotions, and experiences they had. Laura Antoniou puts it well in the foreword to Resistance: The LGBT Fight Against Fascism in WWII: these are the stories “of people who, nevertheless, persisted.” We are persisting in today’s world as we strive to calm our anxieties, survive, and continue to love during this pandemic. Looking back on our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters, we may be able to draw strength from the struggles of the past as we look to the future.
Note: These coloring books were supplied to The Affirmative Couch for review purposes by the publisher at no charge. The Affirmative Couch does not supply affiliate links and does not profit from any resulting sale of these books.
Want to learn more about how to support your clients throughout the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out the related courses from our catalog:
- From a Distance: Navigating Polyamory During a Pandemic (1 CE) Presented by Esther Benoit, PhD, LPC (VA)
- HIV/AIDS Retraumatization During the COVID-19 Pandemic (3 CEs) Presented by Samuel Donath, MS
- The Psychological Impact of Suppressing Kink Identity (2 CEs) Presented by Elyssa Rice, MA, LMFT
Learn More from Stephanie M. Sullivan
You can get all of these courses and more with Annual Membership or the Lifetime Membership.
If you run a group practice or clinic, learn more about making collective and systemic changes toward a more welcoming culture with our affirmative organizational consulting and training.
Avery, T. M. & Cameron, G. (Eds.). (2019). Transgender heroes coloring book. Stacked Deck Press.
Blackburn, H., & Chamley, C. E. (2016). Color me calm: Adult coloring and the university library. Criss Library Faculty Proceedings & Presentations, 6(1), 1-11.
Cassell, A. (2018). Resistance: The LGBT fight against fascism in WWII (D. Kanzler, Ed.). Stacked Deck Press.
Cassell, A. & Macy, J. (Eds.). (2018). Butch lesbians of the 50s, 60s, and 70s coloring book. Stacked Deck Press.
Cassell, A. & Macy, J. (Eds.). (2017). Butch lesbians of the 20s, 30s, and 40s coloring book. Stacked Deck Press.
Eaton, J., & Tieber, C. (2017). The effects of coloring on anxiety, mood, and perseverance. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 34(1), 42-46.
Flett, J. A. M., Lie, C., Riordan, B. C., Thompson, L. M., Conner, T. S., & Hayne, H. (2017). Sharpen your pencils: Preliminary evidence that adult coloring reduces depressive symptoms and anxiety. Creativity Research Journal, 29(4), 409-416. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2017.1376505
Macy, J. & Avery, T. M. (Eds.). (2016). The queer heroes coloring book. Stacked Deck Press.
Rajendran, N., Mitra, T. P., Shahrestani, S., & Coggins, A. (2020). CME information: Randomized controlled trial of adult therapeutic coloring for the management of significant anxiety in the emergency department. Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, 27(2), 91-99. doi:10.1111/acem.13838
Simmons, C. (2016). Effects of coloring on immediate short-term stress relief. Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College: Honors Theses. https://egrove.olemiss.edu/hon_thesis/230