A genogram is a tool that allows you to diagram and synthesize information about the family of somebody. It looks like a family tree, but it focuses on more specific aspects of family ties and has a much more technical appearance.
What is a Genogram?
It is a graphic representation (in the form of a family tree) of the necessary information of at least three generations. It includes information about its structure, the demographics of the members, and the relationships between them. It is used to collect and organize information about a person’s immediate environment. This information serves as an input for clinical or educational intervention. However, anyone can do their genogram to get to know themselves better. It is instrumental in finding models of hereditary problems, inter or intra-generational conflicts, and behaviors transmitted by the environment.
A genogram allows you to visualize the family structure of a person quickly. In many cases, it will enable making a first hypothesis about the causes of a particular personality problem, managing emotions. Likewise, they are a valuable instrument for increasing self-knowledge.
Importance of Genogram
What the genogram presents to us is, in fact, the effort of successful or unsuccessful adaptation of the members of this system to their context of life. It shows us that what influences one part of the system also affects the rest and that the place of the person in this whole influences the relationships and behaviors of the next generation.
What is not negligible, the genogram allows the members of a family to see themselves from a more global angle, including the past to the present, and to reframe emotionally charged behaviors by seeing them from new perspectives. This distancing makes it possible to understand the family responses that have hitherto been the source or reinforcing element of the family’s behaviors. By highlighting and linking the current relational and adaptive patterns with those adopted by previous generations, we can see the same dysfunctional family structures over the ages. Indeed, families repeat or even multiply their problems during their development. What happened in one era is reflected in the next, with the only variations of a slightly different context, for example, the age of onset of the cause of violent death or the type of adaptive dependent and lame response by alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Problems are approached in the same way, and flawed solutions are repeated, infidelity, breaking up the couple, in case of conflict, alcoholism to forget it, and so on.
The solutions to life’s difficulties are thus transmitted from one generation to another, the current family, in case of difficulty, will find the same path with the risks of dysfunction, somatic problems of all kinds, and disunity that this implies.
When one or more family members have succeeded in going over the unspoken and the family taboos to make a genogram, knowing these problems and these prohibitions allows them to prevent the worst. They can talk about it, resort to mediation to avoid relational dead ends and the “family breakdown,” which from one generation to another doom them to repeating the same scenarios. The analysis of the genogram with these people can help them to get out of this impasse fertile in conflicts, lawsuits, divorce, internment in psychiatry, imprisonment, unemployment, alcoholism, and drugs, hypochondria, adulterous birth, incest, promiscuity, violent death, premature death of children, murders.
The genogram thus offers us important keys to identify and understand the nature of these impasses and to help people react and reorganize their lives, their relationships, and correct some of their behaviors. And, freed from the constraints resulting from loyalties to the past, they regain control of their lives.
Steps to Develop a Genogram
A genogram is made in three main stages. These three steps are as follows:
- The general arrangement of the family structure;
- Collecting necessary information about a person’s family;
- Overview of family relationships.
The layout of the familiar structure is the initial phase and also the most important. It serves as an axis for the whole genogram. At this stage, it is necessary to define the biological and legal links existing between the different members of the family. There is a set of predefined symbols to represent these links graphically.
In the register of family information, the following information is entered:
- Demographic information such as dates of birth and death, education level, dates of marriage, and divorce;
- Information on the level of functioning public input on the members’ functioning: are they functional or not, to what extent, and for what reason;
- Critical family events.
In the third step, we trace the traces of family relationships. Here again, the links between one and the other members are established, but in this case, the biological or legal link is no longer observed, but the psychological links.
Developing a Genogram, Step-by-Step Guide
To develop a genogram from start to finish, you need to take the following steps:
Define the purpose of the genogram
The first thing is to define what the purpose of the genogram is. Obviously, in any case, it provides information about a person’s history and family environment. However, this information can be used for different purposes.
Sometimes the data obtained is beneficial for medical purposes. Family history is also a genetic history and helps visualize inherited physical strengths and weaknesses. Simultaneously, the genogram provides valuable information about emotional issues that recur or are common in the same family. These are psychological patterns acquired and transmitted in the family environment.
It is also true that the genogram has a particular purpose. It suits you perfectly by asking yourself: what is the reason for depression. It is possible to trace a specific condition through different generations. In any case, the important thing is always to set a previous goal.
Define the number of generations to analyze
It is essential to view the work realistically. Ideally, three generations should be taken as a basis, but this is not always possible. There are families in which a whole generation has already disappeared, or there is no contact with the members of it.
In other cases, the contact you have with different generations is indirect. It means that you can only get information about a parent from what others are saying about them. It gives rise to a possible bias. In these cases, it is better to have other information sources to corroborate or refute the initial report.
Your best bet is to make a list of living relatives who you can contact. Next, create a new list of people who can offer information about family members that cannot be viewed. And, finally, define how many generations the genogram will cover.
Prepare a guide questionnaire to collect information
It is one of the most critical steps, and it is closely related to the defined goal. What is involved here is to prepare a series of questions that serve as a guide to gather the necessary information to develop the genogram.
It should contain a set of basic questions to collect demographic information. This group of questions should include names, dates (birth, death, marriage, divorce, city transfer.).
Then, there must be a group of questions allowing for deepening the specificities of each member of the family. For example, illnesses he has suffered or suffered, duels he has had to face, hobbies and interests, extreme experiences, and significant conflicts.
Finally, it is necessary to ask a third group of questions aimed at investigating critical family events. It was these times of crisis or serious problems that were common to many family members. Depending on the genogram’s purpose, will be defined, which are the critical events that seek to clarify.
Gather information in the field
Not all genograms have the same level of depth. Some will provide the most visible elements, while others will go into one or more aspects. This will depend to no small extent on the field information that can be collected.
What is involved in this step is to establish contact with possible sources of information. It is essential to keep in mind that not everyone is willing to share their story. Therefore, it is necessary to understand from the outset that this could be a daunting task that will require patience.
Gather documentary information
Letters, photographs, videos, and any family document ultimately prove to be very relevant. It is sometimes possible to find important information on an identity document, purchase and sale contract, or a medical prescription.
A good part of the families cherishes the so-called “family album.” There are usually stamped images of major collective events. When you look closely at a photo, you can be intuitive about someone. What emotional “climate” reigns in the picture? What is the attitude of each other?
Things to Know While Making a Genogram
There are three main things to consider while making family genogram: structure, individual data and relationships between people.
The first thing to consider is the structure of a family genogram. It is a schema that shows the relationships between the individual’s family members, including at least three generations. Although this element is not the most important for clinical or pedagogical study, it is essential to develop others correctly.
On a visual level, this scheme is very similar to what we can expect from a family tree, although we already find some differences in this first element. For example, several predefined symbols allow you to point to different links, such as the relationship between parents and children or marriage.
Relevant information about family members
The second important thing to consider is a series of data that provide essential information about the family members indicated in the first. These data can be related to objective data (such as the date of birth and death of individuals) and other more subjective ones.
Family Relationship Facts
Finally, the third thing to consider while making a genogram has to do with the links between different members of the family. However, in this case, we are not talking about blood or legal relationships, but about the emotional, affective, and psychological bond between them.
Thus, all conflicts, affections, similarities in the emotional or thought level, and other similar elements within a family would be reflected in this element, which would be the most useful when carrying out a Pedagogical therapy or intervention.
Basic Symbols and Lines Used in a Genogram
The basic symbols of a genogram can refer to each member’s characteristics and circumstances or their relationships.
Some of the lines that provide us with information about the interpersonal relationships that exist between family members are:
The type of relationship that exists between two family members, in particular, can be represented in the genogram. The encoding for reading is based on drawing lines that indicate aspects of the relationship between two people.
The encoding would be as follows:
- If there is a close and excellent relationship between the two members, two parallel lines will be drawn.
- Three parallel lines would join the members with a very close relationship of the merged type. A symbiosis determines a merged relationship. In that case, it would be a symbiosis of interdependence.
- A dashed line between two people would indicate a distant relationship.
- An irregular line would be drawn between two people who have a hostile relationship.
- An irregular line with three parallel lines shows a very close and antagonistic relationship. It is narrow and conflicting.
When we talk about triangulation in the family system, we understand the coalition between two family members against another member. Parents and children usually form this type of family pattern against another parent. The family genogram would be represented by the union of the three members through the geometric figure of a triangle.
Part of the family
The genogram includes the part of the family with which the person carrying out the genogram coexists at the consultation time. It would be determined by a closed dashed line that gathers the members who live with the person.
In the genogram, according to the gender of the family member, he is distinguished by two geometric figures:
- The circle represent a woman
- The square represents a man.
Within the geometric figure, a cross is drawn to indicate visually.
Whether it was spontaneous or induced, it is represented by a black colored circle or only by a blade.
A triangle represents pregnancy.
- Current or death age: written in a circle or square symbol.
- Name: next to the symbol.
- Diseases: if relevant to the system.
Genogram Symbols Chart
The following chart is showing the icons, lines and symbols to use for certain relationships.
Image Credits: genopro.com
Draw the Diagram According to the Links
The type of relationship between family members is always an important fact. For this reason, it is necessary that not only the link is represented but also that an element contributes to establishing the quality of this link, even if it is in general.
It is appropriate to design standardized symbols to represent close, distant, strained, conflicting relationships graphically. It’s also handy to have symbols handy to graphically represent cases of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. In many cases, it would be necessary to add something to indicate that they are suspected, but no evidence has been obtained.
Analyze the Genogram
Analyzing a genogram is a creative and sometimes fascinating activity. In principle, this is to assess the accuracy of what is recorded in the graph. When in doubt about data, it is best to highlight the doubt or find a way to corroborate the information.
The initial analysis allows you to organize the information as clearly as possible and delineate the links as precisely as possible. This precision effort is bearing fruit insofar as it will enable us to take the next step with greater unity.
In this step, the validity of the genogram is specified. All the information collected, organized, and represented, should make it possible to identify trends. In other words, at this point, you should be able to visualize the events, circumstances, or things that repeat themselves throughout one generation and another.
On the grounds is the key to understanding. Is there a recurrent disease in different family members and successive generations? Is there dysfunctional behavior passed down from generation to generation? Why do some family members escape this pattern? What is in his personal history that allowed him to break with the design?
These and many more are what should be possible to respond to when a genogram is complete. Surely not provide complete information, but yes gives valuable clues to continue to deepen and, above all, to understand the causes of a current event.
Check Compliance with the Objective
The development of a genogram is not a mechanical task, nor does it give absolute results. Perhaps the same process results in reconsidering the original goal one or more times. Sometimes the discovery of unexpected data can advise us to take a new approach. Therefore, the verification of compliance with the initial objective has a relative value. In reality, what needs to be verified is whether the data found, organized, and interpreted enrich the meaning of the person. It is often the case that, although the objective was not fully achieved, it has, on the contrary, helped. Either way, there should be a final evaluation of the process.
The genogram is a path that leads to personal history. It’s a story that was written before we were born. Each of us is a chapter in a story that began in ancient times. Only this timid rumor of time reaches us, namely that only sometimes we manage to recover thanks to this exercise of following in the footsteps of our human group.
Constructing a monogram requires not only research but also a lot of technical skills, which can become a hectic task to simplify the process. Download our free template using which you can design your genograms in a dynamic and straightforward way.
The half-siblings are usually shown on the left side of genogram.
To show a remarriage in genogram one has to extend the line from the first marriage.
A death in a genogram is shown by using the triangle symbol. It is also used to show miscarriage.
The genogram is an instrument for analyzing the family structure, making it possible to give a brief and rapid graphic image of it, often spread over three generations. It highlights the filiations and breaks of links, the transgenerational repetitions of dependent behaviors or vulnerabilities. Therefore, the genogram is a way of drawing up the genealogical tree of a family by giving it in an analogical way, a representation of its functioning and thus help it access the understanding of the meaning of their relationships and the symptoms that some suffer from of its members. But it also makes it possible to understand their transgenerational dimensions.