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How to Construct Genograms, Part 1

 Genogram Example

What are Genograms? 

Genograms are used as a tool to graphically represent information about a client’s family history. They are helpful as they combine large amounts of information about a family and help to identify family history of mental health, illness, patterns such as communication and relationships, events and other information into a one page document.

Also, genograms may be used to facilitate the relationship with the client, sensitize students to cultural differences, and help to teach the family systems theory (Sawin & Harrison, 1995). Genograms are used predominantly by counsellors, family therapists, physicians, social workers and other health care professionals (McGoldrick, Gerson & Shellenberger, 1999).

Theoretical Basis of the Genogram

The genogram was developed from developmental theory and the family systems theory from much of the work of Murray Bowen (Sawin & Harrison, 1995). The literature on the genogram demonstrates the use of the tool through many case examples therefore giving the tool face validity (or surface value), however the literature involving the psychometric properties is limited.

One study by Sawain and Harrigan (1995) showed no content validity, construct validity, concurrent validity or discriminant validity. However, the predictive validity of the genogram has shown that it provides four times as much medical information than other informal assessment methods and an increased identification of family history of medical conditions.

Although there is limited information on the psychometric properties of the genogram, it is an effective tool in counselling to get an overall view of the client’s family history.

How Family History Impacts on Clients

The family history of a client can impact on many areas of his or her life. The family systems perspective states that wherever an individual is in a family, it may influence his or her functioning, relational patterns, and the type of family he or she forms. Obviously in counselling the most important aspect is the client’s family history of mental health as this can be indicative of a client’s mental health.

As well as this, family history of mental health may also indicate the type of environment the client has grown up in and any maladaptive behaviours present in the client’s life today that could be impacting on his or her level of functioning. Apart from history of mental health, a number of other factors in a client’s family history may be useful to the counselling process. These factors include the biological, legal, age, place in family, culture, abuse, exposure to violence, socio-economic status, and stress.

In the next post, we will look at the applications of genograms in a counselling/therapeutical practice and the basic information required to formulate a genogram.

Follow-Up Posts:

  1. How to Construct Genograms, Part 2
  2. How to Construct Genograms, Part 3
  3. How to Construct Genograms, Part 4

Related Series: Communicating with Children, Pre-Marriage Counselling, Coping with Domestic Violence

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