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  • Writer's pictureTeam Blackwood

Genograms – What Are They?

At Blackwood, we utilize a tool called a genogram to help us understand the relationships and connections in each client family. Originally invented by Murray Bowen, psychologists Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson popularized the use of genograms when they published Genograms: Assessment and Intervention in 1985. Now, 36 years later, genograms are used in multiple fields and are considered an essential tool when working with families.

The genogram goes far beyond a family tree. It employs colour-coded lines and different shapes to map emotional and social relationships as well as family relations. The pictorial nature of the genogram reveals, in a non-threatening manner, the unspoken issues and concerns that are present in all family systems. In other words, the genogram quickly tells us not only how people are related, but how they relate to each other.

We generally create two versions of the genogram. One is for the family and conveys the basic family relationships. Families like the genogram because it captures their family history, honours the connections in the family, and includes how ownership is structured (when applicable) in one concise diagram. This basic genogram is also often shared with the family’s advisor team, and can be very helpful when constructing estate documents, completing effective tax planning, or during corporate structure work.

The second genogram is for our internal use only. It captures more fully the underlying relationship dynamics that exist and includes information about personality and communication styles from our True Colors assessments. In a glance, we see not only the family and business structure, but also the places of alignment, tension, or friction in the family system. Genograms help us to contextualize dynamics, identify key issues, and guide what questions to ask. They often reveal patterns which may be preventing the family from evolving and suggest strengths that can help move the enterprising family forward - all of which allows us to be more effective in our work for the family.

The genogram is an invaluable tool to help Blackwood gather objective information and view each client situation in the larger context of the family system, creating a clearer and more insightful picture of a family. Understanding a family’s relationships, connections, and dynamics, means we can better assist our clients and tailor our approach to their unique needs.

If you are interested in receiving assistance in the development of your own family’s genogram, please do not hesitate to contact us.

See below for a sample of a Blackwood-only genogram for the Bluth family from Arrested Development.

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