Rating the Intensity of Your Emotions

Naming your emotions tells you what your feel.  The SUD scale tells you how much you feel.  In the 1950s psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe developed a scale to help patients rate their discomfort or distress in increments 0f 0 to 100.  This measure, known as the Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale, or SUDS, has become a standard means of self-evaluating individual experience.  We use a simplified version of the scale, with increments of 0 to 10.  Considering that what brings people to seek out mental or physical help is their subjective experience of distress, it makes sense to give their personal report a voice in evaluating improvements or change.  Diagnosis of physical problems frequently relies on patients’ own reports of how they are feeling.

The changing distress level is your personal measure of treatment effects.  At several points during the course of the treatment, you well reevaluate the level to monitor your progress and to see if additional treatment is needed.  This also serves to keep your thoughts focused on the target emotion or problem.  It is virtually impossible to rate your distress about a specific problem and not be thinking about it.

The following chart describes each level of distress on the 10-point scale.

0 – The absence of any distress.  Feeling calm and totally relaxed.

1 – Neutral feeling or just OK, not as relaxed as could be.

2 – A mild irritation.  First awareness of tension or vague stress.

3 – Increased discomfort, unpleasant, but in control.

4 – Noticeable discomfort or distress, perhaps agitation, but tolerable.

5 – Discomfort is very uncomfortable, but I can stand it.

6 – Discomfort worsens and affects my life.

7 – Discomfort is severe and emotional pain interferes with life.

8 – Discomfort increases and it is in my thoughts constantly.

9 – Discomfort is nearly intolerable.

10 -Discomfort is extreme and the worst imaginable.  I feel panicky and overwhelmed.