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Developing a Family Genogram: Symbols, Conventions, and Techniques

Overview of Family Genograms

Box B-1 Symbols to Draw a Family Genogram Drawing a Family Genogram, illustrates the major “how's” of developing a family genogram. The classic source for family genogram information is McGoldrick and Gerson (1985). Specific symbols and conventions have been developed that are widely accepted and help professionals communicate information to each other. There is a convention of placing an “X” over departed family members. Once we were demonstrating the family genogram strategy with a client and she commented, “I don’t want to cross out my family members—they are still here inside me all the time.” We believe that it is important to be flexible and work with the clients’ view of family and their choice of symbols. The family genogram is one of the most fascinating exercises that you can undertake. You and your clients can learn much about how family history affects the way individuals behave in the here and now. ****This brief overview will not make you an expert in developing or working with genograms, but it will provide a useful beginning with a helpful assessment and treatment technique. First go through this exercise using your own family; then you may want to interview another individual for practice. Basic relationship symbols for a genogram are shown in Figure B-1; an example of a genogram is shown in Figure B-2. (When you develop a family genogram with a client, use the basic listening sequence to draw out information, thoughts, and feelings. You will find that considerable insight into one’s personal life issues may be generated in this way). List the initials of family members for at least three generations (four is preferred), with ages and dates of birth and death if possible. List occupations, significant illnesses, and cause of death, as appropriate. Note any significance with alcoholism or drugs, or mental health. List important cultural/environmental contextual issues. These may include ethnic identity, religion, economic, and social class considerations. In addition, pay special attention to significant life events such as trauma or environmental issues (e.g., divorce, economic depression, major illness). As you develop your family genogram pay attention to any patterns that may become evident to you Prepare a final statement how you will use this information to (a) understand yourself, (b) identify how you want to change, commit or continue in your life. See statements below for awareness. FG (1).docx Download FG (1).docx ExerciseB.1.Developing a Family Genogram Develop a family genogram alone or with the help of a family member. After you have created the genogram, ask yourself the following questions and note the impact of each question has had on you. Change the wording and the sequence to fit the needs and interests of your family. Please include your responses for the 5 questions: 1.What does this genogram mean to you? (individual focus) 2. As you view your family genogram, what main theme, problem, or set of issues stands out? (main theme, problem focus) 3. Who are some significant others, such as friends, neighbors, teachers, or even enemies, who may have affected your own development and your family’s? (others focus) 4. How would other members of your family interpret this genogram? (family, others focus) 5. What impact do your ethnicity, race, religion, and other cultural/environmental contextual factors have on your own development and your family’s? (CEC focus) Using a Family Genogram to Understand Family Issues Developing a genogram with your clients and learning some of the main facts of family developmental history will often help you understand the context of individual issues. For example, as you look at the family genogram in Box B-1, what might be going on at home that results in Joan’s problems at school? Why is Nathan doing so well? How might intergenerational alcoholism problems play themselves out in this family tree? What other patterns do you observe? What are the implications of the ethnic background of this family? The person with a Jewish and Anglo background represents a bicultural history. Change the ethnic background and consider how this would impact counseling. Four-generation genograms can complicate and enrich your observations. (Note: The clients here have defined their ethnic identities as shown. Different clients will use different wording to define their ethnic identities. It is important to use the client’s definitions rather than your own.) Attached is an example for pt. 1

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