While in group therapy, working with those suffering from schizophrenia, the discussion brought us about the topic of “grounding” and how does one find reference points amidst the voices and other events that occur during the day. One participant said he listens to music and thinks about the lyrics and while he listens he gets a better sense of himself; another said he thinks about humanity and how he relates to them, as he sometimes feels like an outsider. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that some sort of grounding needs to occur in order to construct some way to test one’s thoughts against what others might perceive about the world or about them.

But how is it that one constructs a world when their internal reference points are not clear, or perhaps distorted to the point that the world feels unfamiliar?

Establishing good will is an important starting point. As each participant speaks from their unique experience, one has to validate their effort to relate to you, the facilitator. Oftentimes I am listening to delusional content mixed in with unique uses of words. I look for the meaning. As symbols in language are signified by the sound one makes to represent meaning, so delusional information might be considered a kind of emotional symbol of one’s experience. I first welcome the expression but quickly jump in to find common meanings among the symbols. I am still surprised at how dynamic the conversation becomes when sets aside one’s assumptions of what words mean and interact with the new reference points the group presents to me.

As participants begin to trust their experiences, they begin to trust others more. Along the way, new reference points are built and more reality testing takes place.