How to do a genogram in psychotherapy

In clinical practice, obtaining information about the patientThe problem for which he is approaching the consultation and the circumstances which surround him or may influence him constitute a fundamental part of the psychotherapeutic process. The psychologist needs this information in order to be able to work and contribute to address the issues raised by the patient, serve as a guide through the process.

Within this information,
understand the family structure and the type of relationships the subject has with their closest environment this can greatly help in understanding the subject’s current situation. Obtaining this information is achieved through several methods, which can record in a simple and easily understandable form if a genogram is developed.

    What is a genogram?

    We call a genogram a graphic representation in which general information about the constitution of a family is formed and the relations between its members. It is a schematic way of visualizing family patterns and the type of relationships that develop between their members. A genogram reflects all the people who make up the family structure, both those who are still alive and those who have died or have become detached from the family nucleus. Abortions are also included. Although this usually goes back to three generations in total, it can vary depending on the type of problem that motivates the consultation with the psychologist.

    The genogram not only reflects the family structure, but serves to
    visualize the presence of very important and vital events for the subject, such as the birth of a brother or sister, The death of a parent, marriage, divorce or abortion. This type of event can strongly mark the human psyche and change the type of relationships that each individual in the family system has, including the client or patient, and can lead to or contribute to the presence of disorders or related problems. To the patient’s reason for consultation. This is why it is a tool widely used in clinical practice to analyze family relationships.

    So while the end result may seem simple and straightforward,
    these representations provide a wealth of information to the professional when it comes to understanding where the patient comes from and how his origins can help explain his present, making it possible to define different strategies and courses of action.

    • This article may interest you: “The 8 types of families and their characteristics”

    Build a genogram

    At first glance, it may seem that doing a genogram is really quick and without any complications. However, to make a meaningful genogram
    it is not enough to make a series of interlaced symbols: Family composition and structure should be explored and taken into account when considering the effect these relationships may have on the patient. Also, although this is a graphical representation that could be constructed in many different ways, to make it understandable and practical, a number of symbols and steps have been established.

    To start building a genogram, first
    the purpose with which the performance is carried out must be taken into account. Since a family can be made up of a large number of people, it is necessary to delimit the type of relationships to be reflected, limiting the representation to those that are closest or related to the problem. Let us see below the steps to follow for the development of the genogram.

    1. Construction of the basic structure

    the basic structure of the family is outlined. So, at this point, each member of the family is represented through a figure and the link that unites them from lines that unite the components of the system. It is essentially a family tree focused on the client or patient and his or her next of kin, generally limited to the assessment of a total of three generations, including that of the aforesaid.

    In addition, a genogram not only indicates that they are part of a family but also
    which members of this family live in the same place as the client or patient, For which he surrounds with a dotted line all the members of the family who live with him. It helps to understand who the patient has the highest level of contact with and how that contact affects their life.

    2. Collection of basic data on the subjects

    Once the structure of the genogram is established and the main people and relationships are represented, it is necessary to understand how the family works.
    collect various general data.

    For example, the age, the education and socio-professional level and the profession of relatives can influence the evolution of the subject, so having these data makes it possible to improve the understanding of the system. It is also helpful to know if there is a history of mental or medical conditions.

    3. Mark the type of relationship they have

    In addition to knowing who is who and the most basic vital data, it is necessary
    observe the type of relationships and the emotional involvement they have, Given its importance in the client’s interpretation of interpersonal relationships and even reality.

    It is thus possible to observe, among other things, whether there are conflicting or very close relationships which serve as a support or a risk factor to promote an improvement or a worsening of the patient’s situation.

    Symbolism and its meaning

    In addition to the process that is followed when constructing the genogram, it is important for your understanding to know which symbols are used in each situation.

    It should be borne in mind that what is symbolized is not only each member of the family, but also the type of bond that unites it with the other components.

    Symbolize people

    When analyzing or creating a genogram, we must take into account what or who is represented with any of the symbols of the cat. Each individual in the family is represented by a unique symbol. More precisely, we will use
    the outline of a square when referring to a man and that of a circle when representing a woman. Inside the symbol will appear the current age of the subject if he is alive, above him the year of birth and just below the symbol the name of the individual. When representing the client or patient, the number that represents them is double (that is, a central square or circle of another). If the person represented is a person who has already died, we will see that the symbol appears crossed out, with an X above it.

    Other symbols to have are those that refer to the presence of abortions. In this aspect, we find two symbols depending on whether the termination of pregnancy was voluntary or accidental: in the first case, a small ics will be used without crossing out any symbol, while in case of miscarriage s is used a small circle entirely painted. .

    In the event that it is necessary to assess the sexual orientation of one of the family members to understand the reason for consulting the patient (for example, if a subject having problems accepting the sexual orientation of ‘a familiar), pot
    indicate if the subject belongs to the LGBT community with an inverted triangle inside the symbol indicating his gender.

    The fact that the symbols are only an outline or are more or less stuffed also has certain implications. Subjects who use and abuse substances such as alcohol and drugs will see half of their symbol painted horizontally. If the individual suffers from mental problems, the symbol will have half painted, but in this case vertically. If you add the two, psychiatric problems and drug addiction, they will be three quarters of the symbol of those who will be painted.

    Represent family relationships

    In addition to the subjects, the genogram also reflects the type of relationship that each component has with the rest. In this sense, we also find different
    representations in relationships between subjects.

    The conjugal union between two people is symbolized by a straight and continuous line, the two individuals being at the same height. If two people have a relationship but they are not married, that relationship will be represented by a dotted line, also being at the same height. If the pair splits, a diagonal bar will cut the line joining them, marking the year of the breakup. In case of divorce, we will find two diagonal bars. In the event that a divorced or separated couple reunite later, the bars marking their separation will be crossed out.

    The presence of children is symbolized by lines that emerge from the union of two peopleBe the continuous line in the case of biological children and discontinuous if we are in front of an adopted child. If it is more than one plant, they will be sorted from left to right according to age.

    The presence of siblings has certain characteristics to consider. If we are dealing with twins, the lines representing union with parents will come from the same point. Otherwise, the lines will originate at different points from which it indicates the bond between the two parents.

    Indicate the type of relationship

    The type of structural bond that family members maintain has been indicated so far, but it is also possible
    indicate what this emotional connection looks like.

    Positive and normative relationships will be marked by both being subjected to exactly the same height. A distant relation can be marked by the fact that the two are subjected to different heights, the two symbols not being linked at the same point.
    Conflicting relationships will be indicated by zigzag lines, And in the presence of physical or mental violence, this situation will be represented by a zigzag line that will end with an arrow that will indicate in which direction the violence is going.

    An intimate relationship can be indicated from two lines instead of one. while the merged relationships will be marked with three lines. From these constructions, combinations can be made.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Compañ, V .; Feixas, G .; Muñoz, D. and Montesano, A. (2012) – The genogram in systemic family theory. University of Barcelona. Department of Personality, Psychological Assessment and Treatment. Faculty of Psychology.
      • McGoldrick, M. and Gerson, R. (1985) Genograms in Family Assessment. Barcelona: Gedisa (3rd ed. 2000).

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