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Behavior & Culture

Inside Seattle’s Color Therapy Group Boom

December 31, 2015
color therapy groups seattle

For the past year, adult coloring books have been a big thing. Topping Amazon’s best seller lists, coloring books can be found in stores and online. Due to their popularity, we have seen an influx of those touting that color therapy helps individuals de-stress and become more mindful. In fact, psychiatrist Carl Jung prescribed coloring to his patients to help calm and center their minds. Color Therapy is believed to reduce stress and anxiety, exercise fine motor skills, train the brain to focus and promotes mindfulness. That being said, color therapy has its critics, who feel while it may be therapeutic at best, it is not real art therapy.

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If we dig into coloring, we find that Publisher’s Weekly traces the start of its popularity back to early 2015 when Art-thérapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress 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, and found at any major retail store, from Urban Outfitters to Whole Foods. According to Lesley O’Mara, the managing director of  Michael O’Mara books, they have never seen a phenomenon like this in thirty years.  “We can’t keep them in print fast enough,” she told The New Yorker.

Whether you feel it’s quackery or not, people are embracing the color therapy trend. For example, The PTSD Survivors of America now host a nationwide Color Across America for PTSD Awareness event, and August 2nd is now National Coloring Book Day. In fact, local groups are even springing up. In Seattle, just 1.5 blocks from Amazon’s global headquarters, around the corner from Microsoft, the Center for Disease Control and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, you will find a coloring group hosted every three to four weeks by Haven Paperie at artisan coffee shop Kakao Cafe, nestled deep under the building cranes of the city.

During the last meeting of December, I joined the color therapy group at Kakao Seattle and was delighted at what I found. A simple evening of coloring and conversation became a community and connection engine. When you are coloring and communing over excellent espresso, it is hard not to talk to people who are doing the same thing. From the small talk you partake in, you learn who they are, what they do and what brought them there in the first place. In this case, Seattle is a very dark city in the winter, so the chance to come out into a warm environment is a key draw for local residents.

color therapy trendI was intrigued as to why Kakao was hosting color therapy groups. I discovered that they were founded by Heidi Heath, the creator of Haven Paperie. I asked Heidi why she started the color therapy group. She shared:

As an artist, I have always enjoyed coloring. I don’t do it as often as I would like, but it has been something I have liked since I was young. I also love planning and hosting events. I love creating warm, inviting spaces for people to feel welcome, seen and cared for. It is something I am passionate about, so I am often looking for opportunities or reasons to plan events.

I had been hearing more and more about how beneficial and therapeutic coloring actually is for adults. My sister-in-law even sent me an article titled 5 Reasons to Give Into the Adult Coloring Book Trend, saying “You’re onto something, Heidi!”  My original idea was to invite a group of girlfriends to a coloring night. I then realized I wanted it to be more than that.

Heidi told me that she had then sheepishly approached Kakao with her idea, worrying they might think she was crazy for suggesting a night where people sit and color at their cafe. Surprisingly, she found they were aware of the coloring craze and were immediately on board. Heidi said to me, “I am passionate about building community, encouraging quality time and intentional communication with the people in our lives.” From my one experience in the communal coloring experiment, I then asked Heidi if she has seen anything interesting come from the this group. She shared:

It has been so fun for me to see the different people who show up to color. To encourage community, I usually put tables together to make big communal tables. There are people who come solo and join an existing group. We have young male and female coworkers come together after they get off work. Mothers and their adult daughters sit together talking over their colored pencils. Women in their 60s come for ladies’ evening out. I get the most giddy when I see grown men sit with colored pencils and create something. I love seeing the different color choices and ways people express themselves on paper. Coloring is an activity anyone can do. It appeals to everyone and there is no right or wrong way to do it.

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Overall, I loved this concept of color therapy groups for the very reason Heidi stated above. In most cities, group activities can be costly. Cooking classes start at $70 per person and cultural events start at around $25 unless you hit them during off-peak time. Coloring was free, it was fun, and $2.75 for some amazing espresso is simply delightful. Heidi said she would keep the group going in the new year, but she had to gauge the frequencies, as there is now talk of bringing the idea to corporate offices. The idea of gathering teams in a conference room for an hour or so to encourage camaraderie, promote creativity, and do something that relieves stress and anxiety seems like a win-win for everyone in her opinion.

In this writer’s humble opinion, color therapy is not just a trend, it is also another creative expression manifesting from the mindfulness trend that is happening across the world. Color therapy is yet another way to encourage someone to break daily patterns in life by introducing an activity that causes the mind to focus. As Daily Meditation writes, “Like mediation, coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on the moment.” If you don’t have a color therapy group in your area, you could start one. If you want to color by yourself, download some free graphics from Pinterest or buy The Game of Thrones coloring book, or whatever makes you happy when coloring!