When I was interning as an occupational therapy student in TBI (traumatic brain injury), I had an extremely difficult client who wouldn’t engage in conversation, never mind participate in any of the activities I presented to him. He became increasingly agitated and would smack himself, pound his fists on the table, and shout obscenities at me, disturbing the other therapists and clients. In school, they don’t teach you how to handle these types of situations. Your CI (Clinical Instructor) wants you to think on your feet and watch you adapt to a plethora of uncomfortable, unpredictable situations. They want to see how you keep control of your patient and the dilemma, and observe how you handle stress and aggravation. Fortunately, in this situation, my childhood hobby came into handy.
I knew my client liked Star Wars, so I printed out a few coloring sheets on the computer. I walked over to him, placed a coloring sheet and a box of crayons on the table in front of him, and sat down a few feet away. He looked at me and screamed, “I AIN’T DOIN’ THAT, STUPID!” I defeatedly replied, “Okay.”, and I started coloring my own sheet. After a few minutes, I saw him reach for a crayon. He colored the entire sheet, quietly, without outbursts. Everyone in the room was shocked. I remember one therapist gave me a thumbs up. I finally got him to engage in a task and act appropriately for thirty minutes. When he finished with the first sheet, he asked me if I had any others. Mission accomplished.
Now, as an occupational therapist, I keep a few coloring books on hand in the therapy gym. I have learned more about my clients when they are coloring and having a bad day than I have trying to get them to do other activities of daily living (ADLs are the basis of OT including dressing, toileting, grooming, hygiene, bed mobility, medication, and home management). Sometimes, as they are coloring, I can get to the bottom of why my client is feeling a certain way, and what may be causing them to have a bad stint in the gym. Life, as we all know, certainly does happen, and sometimes we need to do something relaxing before we jump into more difficult tasks.
If you don’t already know, coloring has numerous therapeutic benefits. When my anxiety creeps up, I whip out this small coloring book, 12 Crayola twistable colored pencils, pour myself a nice big cup of coffee, and start coloring. Coloring calms me down, helps me to de-stress, unwind, and unplug. It’s tactile, and I get to choose my color and sheet, which gives me control. I am happy when my page is finished. I don’t stress if I color outside the lines. I could care less if I doodle in the background. Sometimes, I use one or two colors and sometimes I use all twelve. It is creative, quiet, and fun.
As silly as it may sound, coloring is my coping mechanism and a great way for me to self-soothe. It is cheaper than therapy, healthier than a glass of wine, and allows me to retreat to my own personal paradise.
After all, broken crayons still color.