Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center
Olympia, Washington

Scaling Questions

Scaling questions can be very useful and quite versatile. It is simple enough that even children old enough to understand numbers concepts and adults who think very concretely can use it effectively. Even when a person is vague, unclear or there is disagreement about issues, the therapist can usually encourage clients to put vague descriptions into numbers.

Scaling questions can be used for assessing the client-therapist relationship, investment in change, progress in therapy, different perceptions of solutions, prioritizing of things that need to be done, who is more willing to work to find solutions, how hopeful they are that the problem can be solved realistically and so on.

Scaling Questions—Individual

“In a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning you have every confidence that this problem can be solved, and 0 meaning no confidence at all, where would you put yourself today?”

“On the same scale, how much chance do you give yourself that this problem can be solved?”

(A visitor-type relationship will most frequently prompt a response close to 0. The closer the response gets to 10, the more confidence the therapist can have that a contract for therapy is developing. When confidence is high, 7 or above, the therapist should ask the client to explain what factors go into this level of confidence.)

“When the figure on the scale is improved by 1 point (say from 5 to 6) what will be going on in your life that is not going on now?”

“When it is, say 8, what would you be doing that you are not doing now?”

“On the same scale, how hopeful are you that this problem can be solved?” or “How realistic is it that this problem can be solved?”

“On the same scale, how much would you say you are invested in solving this problem? How much your husband? Your wife? How do you account for the difference? What do you know that he/she doesn’t know?”

When working with a couple, the same question can be asked in the presence of each other. When there is a wide disparity, for instance, the husband says 9 on the hopeful scale, while the wife says 3, the therapist may need to know why there is such a disparity and ask for explanations by asking questions like:

“How do you explain that you see things so differently?” (To the husband) “What do you know about your marriage that your wife doesn’t know that makes you so hopeful?” (To the wife) What do you know that your husband doesn’t know that makes you less hopeful?”

Moving on to other aspects of client perceptions, the following are examples of how the scales can be used:

“On the same scale, where would you say you have to be for you to say that you can live with this problem?”

“Suppose you were at 0 when we started and your goal is to be at 10, where would you say you are today?”

“What would have to be different for you to say that you are one point higher?”

“With 0 being “worst” and 10 being “the best”, how depressed are you feeling today? Yesterday?”

Scaling Questions—Relationship

“If your husband (wife) were here, and I were to ask him, where would he put the chances of the problem being solved?”

“On the same scale, where would he say you are at in willingness to solve this (drinking) problem?”

“If he were here, how hopeful would he say he is that the problem will be solved?”

“How invested would he say you are in solving this problem?”

“Let’s say 10 means that things are the best they can be, given the circumstances, where would he say things are at today?”

“What would he say will have to be different for him to move from 5 to 6 on the same scale?”

“When things are improved, say from 6 to 7, what would he notice different about you?”

“On a scale of 10 (a hell of a lot) to 0, how much do you think she wants this marriage? How much do you think se thinks you want this marriage?” “From his/her point of view, what would he say to you and he/she will be doing different when the scale has moved from 6 to 7?”

Suggestion for What to Do

Since the scaling questions will provide fairly good ideas about the level of client investment and willingness to initiate behavioral changes, whether to give a task at the end of the session or mat will depend on the therapist assessment of the nature of the client-therapist relationship. Therefore, depending on the level of the client’s willingness to initiate change, one can give 1) just a compliment and the task of returning for the next session, 2) compliment and an observational task, or 3) compliment and a behavioral task.

© 2008 Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center
© 1992 BFTC (Used with permission)

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