Genograms: What are they and how they can help you in your career?

genograms health mind matters

Genograms are a graphic way of putting together all the information relating to family dynamics during the assessment stage of therapy.  They are set out like a family tree; however, they go far beyond that, allowing the therapist to see patterns and psychological factors that have affected the relationships.

Genograms were first developed in clinical psychology and family therapy sessions by Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson. A book titled Genograms: Assessment and Intervention was first published in 1985 and is now in its third edition. This new assessment system helped the client picture themselves in context with other relatives: parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, nephews, and nieces.

Genograms are now in use by many groups of people in a variety of fields such as medicine, psychology, psychotherapy, social work, genetic research, education, and youth work to name but a few.

Genograms can show situations that are passed down from generation to generation, potentially highlighting the concerns and family dynamics which create the environment in which our clients are struggling. Knowledge gleaned from the analysis of the genogram can then be used as a therapeutic tool to address the struggles and bring about strength.

I find the use of genograms to be very useful to gain a better understanding of the family dynamics. Clients can find it empowering having insight into their parents’ relationship with their parents. Having the means to bring out unresolved issues between a parent and a grandparent can diffuse the conflict between client and parent, understanding that there is a reason for the parent’s behaviour. It doesn’t excuse it, but it gives a starting point to move forward in resolving issues.

The best thing is that genograms can change – they show what is happening at that moment. Therapy can change a zigzag ‘hostile line’ into a straight ‘positive line’ as long as both family members are willing to find a way towards a more cohesive relationship.

So what are genograms?

Genograms use shapes to convey meaning – just as in family trees: squares are males, circles are females and triangles are pregnancy-related. A cross through the shape means a death. The genogram will indicate who is in the family and their gender; names, dates of birth and deaths, miscarriages and any other personal information can be added.

Lines are drawn to connect the people together; for example: marriage is shown as a solid line, two strokes through the line to show divorce, dating as a dotted line.

When all this information is put in place in the genogram, the emotional nature of the relationships can be shown: zig zag lines depict hostility, two straight lines for close or broken lines describe distant relationships. A family feud or secret can be shown: has there been some hostility or emotional abuse; maybe a spiritual connection?

There is so much more to understand about genograms.  The keys used to show the relationships are quite extensive. Use of colour also helps to quickly see differences.

Just for fun, if you are a Star Wars fan click on the link below to see an example of a genogram.

There are also other examples for you to see on this site for example Albert Einstein.

Select this link