DERS Scale

Use the DERS Scale to assess if your patients struggle with regulating their emotions.

By Matt Olivares on Jul 15, 2024.


Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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DERS Scale PDF Example
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What is the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS)?

Emotional regulation is an essential mental health skill. By practicing emotional regulation, people can ensure their mental health stays stable and attain emotional clarity (having a good understanding of their emotions and why).

By having emotional awareness, people become better equipped to combat emotion dysregulation and control their emotional responses to distressing situations and intrusive thoughts. Of course, that's easier said than done. Many of those who take therapy or counseling have emotion regulation difficulties, and they're attending such programs to learn how to be better at navigating and reacting to what they're feeling, especially if they're dealing with negative emotions and have mental health issues like borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression, etc.

To understand their patients better, therapists and counselors will use tools to gauge their patients. An example of such a tool is the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale, or the DERS Scale for short.

What is the goal of this assessment?

This scale was created by K.L. Gratz and L. Roemer back in 2004 for their paper entitled "Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: Development, factor structure, and initial validation of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale" as part of the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment. Its purpose is to see how respondents relate to and grapple with their emotions.

It is a 36-item questionnaire that measures the nonacceptance of emotional responses, difficulty engaging in goal-directed behavior, impulse control difficulties, lack of emotional awareness, limited access to emotion regulation strategies, and lack of emotional clarity.

How is it scored?

The respondent answering this scale only needs to rate themself per item from 1 to 5. Here are their answer choices:

  • 1: almost never (0 to 10%)
  • 2: sometimes (11 to 35%)
  • 3: about half the time (36 to 65%)
  • 4: most of the time (66 to 90%)
  • 5: almost always (91 to 100%)

After receiving a fully accomplished copy of the scale, the mental healthcare professional who issued it only needs to add up the total score. Higher scores suggest higher difficulties in emotion regulation. Do note that some of these numbers are reverse-scored.

Next steps after using this scale

For therapists and similar professionals who use this scale, the next steps involve finding ways to help reconfigure how their patients or clients think about and respond to their emotions. This includes having them interrogate emotion regulation strategies perceived by their patients as good when they're actually unhealthy, and developing healthy ones.

How to use our DERS Scale template

Our DERS Scale template is easy to use!

On the left side are all 36 items that need to be rated. To the right of each item are columns representing the rating choices from 1 to 5. For the rating columns, you'll find radio buttons that can be ticked with a pen (if you printed physical copies) or the click of a mouse/tap on a screen (if you're using a digital copy). There is an editable field below the questionnaire where you can indicate the scores for each subscale and the total score. Do be mindful with the items with reverse scores!

Below the score indicator fields, there's a notes box where professionals can write down any observations or other pieces of information they have learned about their patients concerning their ability to regulate emotions. It's a space for them to record their findings and write down their plans based on what they've learned about their patients.

How this scale benefits mental health professionals

It can help them understand a patient's emotion regulation difficulties

The DERS Scale can help professionals get to know their patients, specifically how they deal with and manage their emotions, and if they regulate them enough that they don't engage in problem behaviors as a response. With proper follow-up questions based on patient answers, they can find out about any unhealthy coping mechanisms their patient has, what their triggers are, and more! All the possible information they can get using this scale can help them formulate action plans.

It can be used as a monitoring tool

Let's stipulate that the patient learns proper emotional regulation techniques and has developed healthy coping strategies with you, their therapist/counselor. It's normal to want to know if the techniques and strategies you've taught and developed with them are even working.

By using the DERS Scale periodically, you can track any changes in the patient's ability to regulate emotions. The techniques and strategies work if the scores get lower over time! If they're still high, perhaps trying other techniques and strategies might do the trick.

How long does it take to fully accomplish the DERS Scale?
How long does it take to fully accomplish the DERS Scale?

Commonly asked questions

How long does it take to fully accomplish the DERS Scale?

It should take anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes.

Is the DERS Scale a diagnostic tool?

No, because it focuses on assessing the ability to regulate emotions. The difficulty of regulating emotions is related to certain mental health issues, so this can help support actual diagnostic assessments.

Which items of the DERS Scale are reverse-scored?

Items 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 17, 20, 22, 24 and 34. Don't worry. We adjusted the answer choice placements and corresponding scores for these to make it easy for you.

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