Genograms

Genograms (also known as family trees) are a simple tool that allow us to see how a family is made up.

A genogram is another way of describing a family tree and can be useful for establishing who is living in the home and who is in the wider family network, and whether there is contact or not.  By creating and using genograms and ecomaps with children you can establish a lot about the context the child or young person is living in, who is important to them and who may have parental responsibility. Genograms use a common set of symbols, and in this post we look at how to use these to construct and read a genogram.

What is a genogram?

McGoldrick (2016) describes a genogram as:

Simply put, a genogram is a map of who you belong to. […] A genogram offers the clinician a basic picture of who clients are, where they come from, and who matters in their lives.

(Page 1, McGoldrick, M. 2016. The Genogram Casebook. New York: W.W. Norton and Company Inc.)

By creating and using genograms and ecomaps with children you can establish a lot about the context the child or young person is living in, who is important to them and who may have parental responsibility.

Example genogram

Harry (represented by the green block) is a pupil at your school.  Through working with him you have established who the adults are in his immediate family, going back to his mother’s parents.  Each line in the genogram represents a generation, with all the children on the bottom line, the parent’s generation above them and the grandparent’s generation at the top of the diagram.  Females are represented by circles, males by squares. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Sample genogram
Initially, it may look confusing, however let’s break it down and look at what the individual parts of the genogram are telling us.

Click on each grey box to find out more.

Immediate family section of genogram

Immediate family

Grandparents section of genogram

Grandparents

Maternal aunt section of genogram

Maternal aunt

You can therefore see that there is a lot of information that can be stored for quick access using a genogram.  A quick access guide that you can print for ease of reference can be found at the bottom of the page.

Tips for when completing a genogram

  1. Ensure that you use a large piece of paper – on many occasions an A3 sheet may be necessary due to the complexities of family dynamics.
  2. Date when the original genogram was completed and when any subsequent information is added.  This allows you to keep track of change over time.
  3. It doesn’t have to just be in black and white, it may be useful to add colours to identify specific family groups within the genogram.
  4. Record as much as you can in terms of additional information (e.g. ages / dates of birth / year or date of death / etc.) as this adds more context.

Disadvantages of genograms

Whilst providing a useful summary of the family relationships, genograms do not tell about the dynamics in the home and wider family.  With what are termed “blended families” on the increase, genograms do not tell us about the amount of contact that there is between family members, or who is important to the child (i.e. the context in which they live).  If we consider Harry in the example above, the following questions are not answered:

  • Does he have a relationship with his father?
  • How often does he see his father?
  • Who does he see as his grandparents – Grace and James or Grace and Simeon?
  • Does he see his older half-brother?
  • Is there any relationship / contact with his maternal aunt (Eve)?

Therefore a second document known as an ecomap can be very useful to support genograms by providing an idea of who the young person sees as important.

Resources

  • Genograms Quick Reference Guide

    One page document providing a quick reference guide to the symbols and structuring of genograms.

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