The Dichotomy of SUDS

Getting a baseline for someone’s discomfort and checking for any movement in the intensity is – like getting to a specific – a key practice in EFT.  Most often used is a 0 to 10 scale often referred to as “SUDS” or “SUDs” i.e., Subjective Unit of Distress Scale, developed by Joseph Wolpe in the late 60’s for measuring progress. Wolpe is actually better known for developing systematic desensitization for treating anxiety and phobias.

Gary Craig, himself, was probably responsible for the spread of the term in EFT as he used it when he was on stage (for example, see the video on Stacy in the EFT Intermediate Library – still for rent at As more practitioners utilized EFT the term SUD or SUDs was used in writing to stand for the Subjective Unit of Distress Scale – and, it caught on. Now this term is often seen and heard in EFT articles, books, webinars etc. And, sometimes, the term (SUDS) is even used in the context of, “I asked the client their SUDS…”

Medical facilities use a 0 to 10 scale to assess pain levels. If you’ve ever been asked by a nurse or physical therapist for your pain level have you noticed they do not ask for your “SUD” or “SUDs.” To the best of my knowledge, practitioners in the EFT world are the only helpers who teach clients to use this acronym.


Let me digress into my own little “rant” here! In classes around the world EFT trainers teach new practitioners to “use the client’s words” in creating Setup phrases and Reminder Phrases. I don’t know about all other therapists in the world, but in my 40 years of practice, I have never had a client come in and describe their distress by sharing that “My SUD level was ___.” They simply never use that term. Clients have all sorts of descriptions of their levels of emotional and physical distress that give me lots of clues as to how they “frame” their world. They give me lots of “their own words” to use during our EFT session, but I’ve never heard a new client describe their distress using the acronym SUD or SUDs.

All fields have their own set of “jargon” to be able to communicate with others in the field concerning related concepts. If we want to communicate with each other using the term SUD (Subjective Units of Distress) or talk about the SUD scale [Subjective Units of Distress Scale – SUDs) nothing wrong with that. But, teaching this term to a client to add to their vocabulary is not necessary. Indeed, it contradicts our “use the client’s words” philosophy.

After all, isn’t our job to use their words?

And, by the way, the term is no longer mentioned anywhere in Gary Craig’s revised tutorial:


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Ann Adams