What is a Genogram in Family Therapy

A genogram is a popular tool among therapists delving in family therapy. The graphic tool provides detailed information on the interpersonal relationship within a family. It takes into account the past and present aspects that impact the current situation.

As a therapeutic instrument, a genogram can be utilized to better assess the circumstances and the reaction of the people involved in a problem. In formulating interventions and devising ways for reconciliation, mending family relationships has never been easier, thanks to genograms.

What is a Genogram?

A genogram illustrates not only the medical history but also the relationship of the family members across generations. It can reveal generational wounds that have strained the relationship of the family members. Hereditary patterns and psychological factors which both play a role in the current state of affairs can also be identified through a genogram.

Basic genogram symbols for family relationships

Each line and symbol in a genogram represent the emotional connection between each family member.Color-coded lines differentiate marriage, divorce, separation, and engagement from one another.

Using a timeline alongside a genogram can help psychiatrists and clients get a better perspective on family relations and understand how every piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Using Genograms in Family Therapy

According to the Bowen Family Systems Theory, the family functions as an emotional unit – an individual is better assessed and understood not in isolation, but rather in association with the family unit. Based on this, it’s natural for the members of the family to be strongly connected emotionally and show interdependence in their thoughts, actions, and feelings.

Bowen’s Theory states that the action of one family member is affected and affects the reaction of another. The balanced behavior of each member creates harmony within the family unit. On the other hand, dysfunctional behavior can disrupt the equilibrium and lead to a series of reactions that may affect the whole family.

Considering the Bowen Theory, genograms undoubtedly play a huge role in understanding the interconnectivity of the relationships of family members. This is why the genogram is the main tool of therapists in the arena of family therapy.

The therapeutic benefits of creating a genogram vary from person to person. Here are the ways it’s used in different situations.

Uncover the root cause of issues

Changes in the behavior of an individual can be caused by problems unknown to even the closest family members.

For instance, a child who used to be a stellar performer at school suddenly became moody, rebellious, and unenthusiastic. The child may hesitate from sharing their problem in the presence of a therapist.

The child may have witnessed their father leave the family, obliging the mother to take up both roles to maintain stability. The added responsibility may affect the attitude of the mother, as well as the children, introducing problems not present before.

By allowing the child to draw a genogram, therapists will be able to identify the reason behind the change in behavior without forcing the child to talk about it.

Promotes better understanding

Genograms depict how a problem has evolved and how it continues to affect the whole family. The genogram can introduce cognitive change as it develops insight, provides awareness, and expands understanding of the causality of long-standing issues within the family.

Creating a genogram has been reported to promote empathy and intimacy as clients understand more about the narrative behind a family member’s current attitude and the issues they face. As a result, they develop a better understanding of the situation and formulate ways to change their behavior toward the problematic relative.

Oftentimes, family members tend to judge a relative based on the latter’s current behavior toward the former. They forget to consider the events that caused the change in attitude and led to the situation everyone is in.

A genogram helps clients gain a wider perspective in tackling their family problems. Instead of viewing a member as someone problematic that needs to be cut off, clients will be able to see them as individuals facing their battles – that they need the same support everyone is getting even if they don’t seem to ask for it.

Genogram symbols for denoting addictions and illnesses
(Source: GenoPro)

Drawing a genogram requires research and interviews, which are activities that can assist in deciphering the reasons behind behavioral transformations. The perspective of relatives and friends will help clients grasp the situation better.

Initiates a change in behavior

One of the reasons why patients feel powerless to take control of their family relationship is due to the way they react to the things their relatives say or do. In mending family relationships, it’s recommended that each member avoid attacking, defending, or disregarding others.

Relational differences are often met with emotional reactivity, leading to unresolved issues that continue to grow. A genogram will help clients see that the hindrance to a peaceful resolution is their attitude and overreaction.

Revealing behavioral patterns that repeatedly lead to the same problems the clients face can help widen their perspective. With this, they’ll be more open to change their behavior, take control of their emotions, and experiment on a new lifestyle.

Makes it easier to talk about hard issues

Drawing a genogram can lighten the mood on a serious issue. It removes the intensity from the topic, allowing patients to divert their attention on the drawing and not on the emotions that often burst out when thinking about the problem. This makes them feel safe and better prepared to discuss things face-to-face.

Sometimes, issues arise from the influences and belief systems of past generations. Topics that are hard to discuss in person, especially if they’re secrets or considered taboo within the family, can be disclosed through drawing a genogram. Clients may feel more comfortable expressing their views on a piece of paper than talking about it.

Points out strengths

A genogram isn’t all about pointing the weaknesses in the family relationship. It can also be used to identify strengths that will act as the client’s support toward recovery from trauma or similar stressful circumstances.

Drawing genograms can help reignite communication within the family since the activity requires some questions that only family members can answer. This action helps strengthen the relationship between the members as they discover new things about themselves and their bond with each other.

Regularly reviewing the genogram can aid patients in remembering past experiences that led them to current situations. This is especially helpful in resolving issues occurring in a recurring pattern. Doing this also empowers patients by reiterating that they’re the experts who understand their family’s dynamics; that they have the capacity to change things on their own.

A major element in the success of family therapy is not the completeness of a genogram alone; it’s the active participation of each member to genuinely resolve family problems and strengthen their relationship with each other.

A genogram acts only as a reference point that can help therapists and patients see the bigger picture. Collaboration among members is the necessary ingredient for achieving successful family therapy.


A genogram plays a vital role in family therapy as it reveals the status of the relationship between each member. It provides a wider perspective on how issues have evolved, leading to a better understanding of the situation. With the comprehensive information a genogram provides, together with the proactive participation of family members, it’s not impossible to resolve relationship issues and strengthen the bond of the group.

GenoPro is a software perfect for creating genograms with ease. Users can create multi-generational genograms and include information like emotional relationships, social connections, and key life events relevant to understanding where the issues arise.

GenoPro makes it easier for patients and therapists to identify behavioral patterns and dysfunctional relationships by presenting a clean-cut genogram. The software is currently available for a free trial and can be purchased for personal, academic, and enterprise use.