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Introduction to the Genogram

A genogram (pronounced: jen-uh-gram) is a graphic representation of a family tree that displays detailed data on relationships among individuals. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to analyze hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships. Genograms allow a therapist and his patient to quickly identify and understand various patterns in the patient's family history which may have had an influence on the patient's current state of mind. The genogram maps out relationships and traits that may otherwise be missed on a pedigree chart.

Genograms were first developed and popularized in clinical settings by Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson through the publication of a book in 1985. Genograms are now used by various groups of people in a variety of fields such as medicine, psychology, social work, genealogy, genetic research, and education. There are many books and websites on the topic of genograms. 

Genograms contain a wealth of information on the families represented. First, they contain basic data found in family trees such as the name, gender, date of birth, and date of death of each individual. Additional data may include education, occupation, major life events, chronic illnesses, social behaviors, nature of family relationships, emotional relationships, and social relationships. Some genograms also include information on disorders running in the family such as alcoholism, depression, diseases, alliances, and living situations. Genograms can vary significantly because there is no limitation as to what type of data can be included.

Genogram Example

Sample Genogram with the Emotional Relationships
Sample Genogram with the Emotional Relationships (click to enlarge)

This genogram was made using GenoPro. You may click on this link to get the sample genogram in larger size. If you have GenoPro installed on your computer, you may open the file SampleGenogram.gno to get the interactive version. Spin the mouse wheel to zoom-in and zoom-out. To begin, we can hide the emotional relationships by clicking on the shaded happy face button in the toolbar Show or hide emotional relationship. The genogram shown below is the same as above, without the emotional relationships.


Sample Genogram without Emotional Relationships

Interpreting a Genogram

This genogram contains a wealth of information. For the purpose of this exercise, we will quickly overview the color codes and patterns inside the squares and circles. These color codes are usually used to represent substance abuse such as alcohol or drugs, and the patterns inside the gender symbol usually represent a genetic disease. If you are not doing a medical genogram, these symbols can be reassigned to user-defined properties.

From the sample genogram above, you can see that males are represented by a square and females are represented by a circle. All genogram symbols are described here, and the rules to interpret a genogram are written here. The date of birth and/or date of death are displayed on top of the gender symbol. In this genogram, Daniel was born in 1974 and Hélène died in 1981. Raphaël was born in 1978 and died in 2003 at the age of 25. Due to the lack of space, the year of birth and year of death are displayed on top of each other, but if you take a look at this sample genogram, you will see the year of birth and year of death are displayed horizontally "1978 - 2003". GenoPro can also display the full date of birth and full date of death from the Display menu. Here is a summary of the sample genogram:

  • André has been married twice. His first marriage to Hélène ended in 1981 due to her untimely death. His first marriage date is not specified in this genogram. In 1983, he married his second wife, Lisa.
  • André is currently separated from Lisa, and according to the genogram, he is living alone.
  • Lisa was married to someone before marrying André. She gave birth to triplets with one male stillbirth. Lisa and her first husband became foster parents to a child. The couple eventually got divorced.
  • Mike is André and Lisa's son. Mike has many half-siblings: Daniel, Anne, Benoit, Estelle, Jean-Claude and Lisa's two surviving children.
  • On the other end, Max and Nicole had identical twins in 1973. Later, Nicole had a miscarriage and a stillbirth. The couple adopted Daniel. You can record the date and place of an adoption on GenoPro by double-clicking on the blue-dotted line.

The emotional relationships provide an in-depth analysis of how these individuals relate to one another. Here is a summary of the emotional relationships portrayed in the first sample:

  • André was physically abused by his father. This violent behavior was passed on, and André later emotionally abused his own son Daniel. Daniel had a fused relationship with his mother. He now has a close relationship (friendship) with Jean and his younger brother Jean-Claude.
  • Hélène was very close (intimacy) to her mother in-law.
  • Lisa and her first husband are estranged (cutoff). Lisa neglected her son Mike, and now Mike is violent towards his girlfriend.
  • Anne is focused (obsessed) on her younger brother Benoit.
  • Jean-Claude is indifferent (apathetic) to his half-brother Mike.
  • This genogram clearly illustrates that this family has many issues to deal with!
  • The horizontal line between Luc and Jean is an identical twins link, not the emotional relationship "plain / normal". Click here to get tips on how to tell an identical twins link apart from a plain/normal relationship link.


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