“What do you notice?”

“Nothing” the Client replied.

Does this sound familiar?

When practicing the desensitization phase of EMDR, it can be difficult to know what to do after we ask, “What do you notice?” and the Client says, “nothing.” “Nothing” could mean a lot of things and often does. Perhaps the image, emotion, thought, or body sensation stayed the same. Perhaps the Client was completely distracted. Perhaps the Client does not feel comfortable expressing what he/she noticed. Sometimes experiences are difficult to put into words. Most importantly though, it is a mistake to assume that the Client is not reprocessing or that the EMDR therapist think he/she is doing something “wrong.”

With that said, how do we proceed when we get the “nothing” response? Like many things in EMDR, there is not one approach to always take, but we will consider some options.

1. Simply say, “Go with that” and continue BLS.
2. Change the speed of the BLS.
3. Change the direction of the BLS.
4. Change the number of passes.
5. Change the type of BLS.
6. Go back to target.

When I was initially trained, I learned these interventions. They were and are often effective. However, I was stuck when the Client continued to report, “nothing.” We can give these interventions the college try, but at some point, we might have to try to understand what “nothing” means. Credit to Brittne Lee for teaching me an additional intervention, “When you say nothing, what do you mean?” Yes, kind of simple, but early in EMDR training we are taught the virtues of staying out of the way and sticking to our usual prompts. So, when we ask this question, you might also follow it up with, “Before it was nothing, what was the last thing you noticed?” “Did it stay the same?” “Were you distracted?” I have found that often, by simply asking this question, I gain an understanding of what the Client is experiencing, which informs my next action.

This post is not an exhaustive list of possible interventions, but rather an observation of a trend that I have noticed, and some ideas of how to move past “nothing.” I have seen newly trained EMDR therapists struggle with this situation. Have you struggled with this response as well? How have you handled the “nothing” response in your work with Clients while using EMDR?
As I wrote this, I did not realize that I was paying homage to Seinfeld. After all, this is a post about “nothing.”

Robert Peacock, LCSW-S
EMDRIA Approved Consultant
EMDRIA Certified EMDR Therapist

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