Colouring-in has become a popular way for adults to relax and de-stress.
Colouring-in has become a popular way for adults to relax and de-stress.

How colouring-in heals the psychological scars of trauma

PURPLE, red, yellow, black and blue.

While they will never erase the scars of domestic violence, these shades of bruising are among the hues that are helping survivors of physical and psychological abuse find peace in a chaotic and violent world.

Adult colouring books are suddenly the hottest hobby on the planet, but psychologists, counsellors and therapists have long espoused the therapeutic qualities of the activity that kids adore.

Carol Omer is a life coach who has spent many years working with victims of domestic, family and intimate partner abuse.

In 2003, the 55-year-old author of The Big Girls Little Colouring Book suffered a major loss when one of her best mates was killed in a callous domestic violence attack.

"During the week between my friend's death and her funeral I created a large mandala which I still use as a visual training tool to share her story of courage and her love for her children," Ms Omer tells Weekend Magazine from her home in Adelaide.

Mandalas are among the most common forms of adult colour-in drawings.

These patterns with-in a circle can put the colourer into a semi-trance or meditation as their pencils weave between the heavy black lines.

"In the late 1990s, I read Carl Jung's Memories Dreams and Reflections and was fascinated by the concept of the mandala," Ms Omer, whose ground-breaking work is helping people across the country, says.

"I had seen how the young women at our shelter would get very involved in some of the playgroup activities that were designed for their children, including colouring-in.

"As the daughter of a very creative mother, I recognised that many of the programs and systems in place in (refuge) shelters are developed within an academic, not a creative framework.

"So …  my colleagues and I began to create tools that tapped into women's creativity and gave their hands something to do that was engaging and fun -  'fun' is not usually associated with domestic violence shelters."

Colouring in is no longer just for the kids - adults are embracing the hobby as a way to de-stress and ease psychological trauma.
Colouring in is no longer just for the kids - adults are embracing the hobby as a way to de-stress and ease psychological trauma. Mike Richards GLA010715CALI

"Our group attendance and retention rate increased dramatically as a result of the creativity and colouring groups."
Helping women break the cycle of domestic violence is key to Ms Omer's concept and ideals.

"A very common topic in shelters is 'how do I change negative patterns?'," she says.

"Especially if it is the second or third domestic violence relationship that a woman is experiencing or she has grown up with domestic violence and does not recognise the intergenerational cycle.

"For those sessions, I designed mandalas that had affirmations such as 'I release the patterns that no longer serve me' and 'I love and accept myself'."

Turning the page on good health

PSYCHOLOGIST Dr Talitha Best agrees hobbies like colouring-in can help people cope with stress.

"While the research is emerging - focused attention by doing a tasks like colouring or other arts and crafts, not only makes you feel good, but can also have tangible changes in the brain, support the process of being mindful and present to the task that can have a positive effect on thinking, memory and how well we handle stress," the Bundaberg-based CQUniversity psychology lecturer says.

"There is a natural pleasure associated with completing tasks like these, engaging in an activity that is enjoyable, a sense of satisfaction and mastery in the completion of that task.

"This is great for the brain and for emotions and level of accomplishment.

"There is also the physical health benefits of engaging in activities where you are focussed on a task."

Community volunteer and social worker Michelle Ruddell loves to colour in.
Community volunteer and social worker Michelle Ruddell loves to colour in.

Catching the colouring bug

PASSSIONATE community volunteer and social worker Michelle Ruddell loved colouring-in with her children when they were little.

So it's not surprising that she rediscovered her passion for staying between the lines when her kids flew the nest.

"I consider colouring as an art form as I believe it enables colourists a creative opportunity to explore with different mediums and produce something of themselves that may not be expressed otherwise," the Gold Coast-based founder of The Colouring Bug says.

"Colouring requires a level of focus and allows qualities of meditative practice to naturally occur for the mind and the body.

"Mediation and relaxation have been constant life practices for myself so colourings' calming influence was a natural progression."

From pencils to gel-pens, Ms Ruddell uses a range of artist's tools to complete her creations.

"My favourite colouring mediums vary depending on the type of paper and illustrations on offer," she says.

"When I first started off in June this year, I solely used markers and as my confidence grown I have used watercolour pencils, chalk pencils, fine markers, gel-pens and paints and even a smartphone app.

"At the moment I am favouring coloured pencils as I appreciate forming colours by shading and blending.

"Through blending and shading with pencils, I have fondness for blues, greens and hues of oranges and yellows.

"I adore colours which are found in nature and find when working with greens and blues I am at ease."
Colouring need not be a solitary activity, Ms Ruddell says.

Her The Colouring Bug group meets regularly and members stay in touch via social media including Facebook.

"With a background in social work and community development I have experienced and observed the importance of art in the community and its role of enhancing social inclusion and so I acted up this opportunity to share colouring with the community," Ms Ruddell says.

"Meetings are all about sharing in the world of colouring, the latest books, mediums and techniques.

"We tend to have a few laughs and enjoy taking time from our busy day to capture the calmness which colouring brings into our lives."

Turning doodles into dollars

EDITH Streiner started making colouring books long before they became trendy.

The NSW Northern Rivers artist decided to turn her passion for doodling into a business venture about 15 years ago.

Her collection of colouring books, containing captivating sketches of Australiana, are sold across the country.

"I'm a doodler from way back - I cannot remember a time when I haven't drawn," Streiner says from her picturesque studio in the little town of Uki.

"I would start somewhere on a page with nothing particularly in mind and create a lot of patterns and line work, and then from there something eventuates."

From the Great Barrier Reef and Australia's flora and fauna, Streiner says nature is an "endless inspiration".
"There's so much detail there (in nature) if you look," she says.

"I've had my first book out for about 15 years and a lot of people said to me 'have you got anymore'.

"I went through all my drawings going back to my early teens and saw that there was a lot of bird pictures, a lot of flora, fauna, the Barrier Reef and its sea creatures and so that's how I came up with the six books."
Streiner says demand for her books is increasing.

"In the last six months, colouring books have become the fad - they are marketing them for relaxation and calm and medication.

"I'm very lucky that they are doing very well."

Book-seller Stephanie Reekie.
Book-seller Stephanie Reekie.

Judging a book by its cover pays

COLOURING books take pride of place at book-seller Stephanie Reekie's Brisbane Craft & Quilt Fair display, which wraps up tomorrow (Sunday, September 11).

The retailer says she's seen the genre really take off in the past 12 months.

The Secret garden, with world-wide sales of 1.4 million, and The Mindfulness Colouring Book are just two of the 40 colouring-in books that grace her shelves.

"We've always carried them," Ms Reekie says of the Melbourne bookshop she started about 10 years ago.

"The one that's the world's best seller - The Secret Garden - we've actually had on our shelves for three years.

"We've sold it steadily, but now that it's been prescribed for good health it's just taken off.

"People seem to buy them juts to relax basically - with all the technology, keyboards, that sort of thing - it gives them a chance to tune out, relax and do something that's peaceful.

"Of course everybody loves their pencils."

To read more about the quilting displays at the Brisbane Craft & Quilt Fair, click here.

If you or someone you know needs help, phone DV Connect on 1800 811 811, DV Line on 1800 656 463 or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.


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