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Colour me SIM

By Timothy Cocks Science and the world 16 Jul 2015

From The New Yorker

Why Adults Are Buying Coloring Books (for Themselves)

“Coloring books for adults have been around for decades, but Basford’s success—combined with that of the French publisher Hachette Pratique’s “Art-thérapie: 100 coloriages anti-stress” (2012), which has sold more than three and a half million copies worldwide, and Dover Publishing’s “Creative Haven” line for “experienced colorists,” which launched in 2012 and sold four hundred thousand copies this May alone—has helped to create a massive new industry category. “We’ve never seen a phenomenon like it in our thirty years of publishing. We are on our fifteenth reprint of some of our titles. Just can’t keep them in print fast enough,” Lesley O’Mara, the managing director of British publishers Michael O’Mara Books, wrote to me about their own adult-coloring-books catalogue.”

I once had a client who was an artist. He’d had a car accident and suffered multiple fractures and was experiencing widespread, persistent pain. But worse than the pain and injuries, he reported, was his “loss of creativity” – he hadn’t drawn or painted in months and any attempts to do so brought on pain, frustration, anxiety and depression. One day, during another ineffective treatment session (this was some time ago I hasten to add), the client spied a copy of The Anatomy Colouring Book  in amongst my modest collection of books. He asked to have a look at it, noted my incomplete and incompetent attempts and asked whether I might like him to have a go at fixing my mess. He was most welcome I responded, and thought nothing more of it as he left. A week later he returned and, looking just a bit sheepish, confessed to getting a bit carried away – he had finished colouring in about half the book. I flicked through the book and was left speechless – the initial few pages, those I had made a mess of, now looked great. But as I leafed through further, the detail increased, the shading became more and more complicated and the final few pages he had worked on were simply breathtaking. I felt like I was holding a precious piece of art.

I stammered something in admiration and asked how he had managed to undertake what was clearly hours and hours of work. He reported that on the first attempt he had only managed about 10 minutes of colouring until he started to hurt all over, but had been so exhilarated to see something artistic done by his own hand that he decided to persevere. Over the following days he stuck at it and found that he could do more and more. He reported that while he was colouring he barely noticed his pain and by the end of the week was able to undertake hour long sessions quite comfortably. I remember asking (quite stupidly) if he was “paying for it now”, but he reported that he felt better than he had in months, was planning his first original piece since the accident, and had even made a few preliminary sketches. Perhaps that last session of treatment really did do something….

Looking back, this is a story of finding really powerful SIMs, changing DIMs into SIMs, and grading exposure. Not just grading exposure to activity, but grading exposure to creative output – an output that had been thought “lost”, but just needed some gentle coaxing and a safe place to start. Looking back again, I wish I’d been clever enough to think of this idea myself!

The anatomy colouring book was, sadly, lost in a move at some point, but the story has remained. It’s a reminder now of the importance of the individual context of DIMs and SIMs, and that at the right time and place, with the right person, a colouring book, or any other creative outlet, can be powerfully therapeutic.

– Tim Cocks


  1. Nice one Tim,
    Your closing comments highlight the fact that Dims & Sims are very individual and very personal…..
    London 😎


    This should be of enormous interest to clinicians and patients.

    I started counting the potential *entry points* for therapy, but lost count. Here’s the main ones with my commentary under each.

    — very weak cervical spine
    obvious, and easy to fix

    — happily overworked
    Massively incongruent statement.

    — enthusiastic employee
    Again incongruence. Time to stop here and really push for congruence by ‘going first’.

    — big corporation
    Why even mention that it’s big? Is that a problem? Do they recognize your input? Are you overlooked?

    — insidious changes began to make my life more and more difficult
    What EXACTLY happened here? Most physios don’t want to know.

    — pressed to do so by my doctor.
    Here I’d say “So your doctor makes your decisions for you?” There needs to be some recognition of self-responsibility and the potential for same.

    — doubt that I could have any kind of future ahead of me.
    Might start some work on value elicitation here, even just in a small way.

    — Luckily, with the help of a Chinese doctor
    STOP. Tell me about this person. I’m not interested in his techniques, but tell me about the person himself and what you liked.

    — I was able to go back to work, to my employer’s utter disappointment.

    — I had resisted the pressure and the harassement
    Don’t be too inquisitive here. Get the info without prying. Be indirect.

    — and being a woman over 45
    Could be a big one. Does she feel useless? Old? A “woman in a man’s world”? Investigate briefly.

    — Life didn’t look good.
    Big DIM. Elicit values if possible.

    — It was also terribly expensive.

    — I checked with a neurologist, and a series of tests, x-rays and scans showed that there was permanent damage to the cervical and lumbar segments of my spine.
    Neurologist is not up to date with pain science. He has caused suffering here instead of relieving it.

    — Determined to fight to the end, though, I established a routine of postural work, manual therapy.
    Fighting is not encouraged. Might use the chinese finger trap here as a demonstration. Postural work isn’t something I ever encourage. If you want to slump, slump. Do whatever is comfortable.

    — I made friends with younger people
    This links in with the statement about being over 45. Could be a significant SIM.

    … and so on.

    There’s so much in this, the possibility for complete cure in a short period of time is very high in my estimation. I have a feeling the MDMA has done good things for her, but there are many significant risks associated with illicit drugs.


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