When I’m beginning to work with clients, as individuals and especially as couples, I often encourage them to create a genogram. The genogram is useful in identifying the medical history of one’s family. In the context of counseling, a genogram provides a means to create a family map. It helps us to identify patterns of interaction, gender rules, secrets kept, themes (the family’s idea of who they are), losses experienced, possible mental illness, substance abuse, and what is generally functional or dysfunctional in the family. Of course, you may not have all the information at hand, and this is instructive about the family culture as well.

A genogram ideally contains three generations. It’s simple to create, or computer programs can be purchased.

People are shaped by their families as well as society as they grow into adulthood. Therefore, it is beneficial to look to one’s childhood and the entire family tree to gain insight into how one came to believe in certain things, some of which may not be helpful in the pursuit of life goals. For instance, a family culture might be that girls grow up to get married and that money is wasted if they attend college. A woman may come to therapy depressed about her life, because she is unhappy with the assigned role; the family theme shaped her understanding of what is possible for her. Recognizing that this is just one way of looking at what’s possible for women opens her mind to explore other perspectives.

If you prefer to learn from books, Genograms: Assessment and Intervention comes highly recommended. For the non-student just beginning to explore family themes, Genograms by Emily Marlin is a compact, highly readable book.

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One Comment on “Geno-What?!”

  1. Colleen Says:

    Years ago I did a genogram on my family and was surprised to find out that what I knew about my family history did not really become clear for me until I saw it written out on paper. Powerful stuff. I looked at it and thought, “my brother, sisters, and I didn’t have a chance.” There was no way we could have got through our childhood without damage. But at the same time it showed me how far we had come from there and how most of us had unconsciously decided that the craziness stopped with us. We were not passing it on.