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What Is a Genogram?

By L. Whitaker
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A genogram, alternately known as a Lapidus Schematic or McGoldrick-Gerson study, is a visual representation of the relationships, medical and psychological issues, and other data about several generations of a specific family. Genograms are used in several professional fields, including psychology and medicine, to help individuals identify behavioral patterns or hereditary conditions. While a genogram might appear at first glance to resemble a family tree, this visual aid typically contains detailed information about individuals in the family and the quality of their relationships with each other. The person of primary focus, or index person, will be the individual who is consulting a professional for assistance or the person who is creating his or her own genogram. These family diagrams are subjective and are likely to vary considerably based on the knowledge, views, and experiences of the index person.

Typically, genograms begin with basic details about the gender, name, and birth or death dates of each individual in the family for two to three generations. Gender is indicated by the use of a circle to represent a female and a square for a male. The index person is indicated with a double-bordered square or circle. A deceased person is shown with an X through the circle or square. As in a traditional family tree, positioning and connecting lines show blood relationships and marriages.

Many types of data can be shown on a genogram. For example, certain medical issues or mental health problems typically are either color-coded or indicated with a unique pattern within the circle or square. Some genograms note the occupation, education level, or significant life events of each individual on the diagram. Each genogram should feature a key that explains the meaning of each color or pattern throughout the diagram.

An individual who creates a genogram for non-medical purposes might choose to illustrate the quality of relationships between family members. Standard symbols are used for relationship status. For example, a hostile relationship is sometimes shown by a jagged line connecting two individuals, whereas emotional distance is often shown by a dotted line connecting the two people.

The genogram was first introduced to clinical use with the 1985 publication of Genograms: Assessment and Intervention by Randy Gerson and Monica McGoldrick. Several types of computer software are now available to simplify the process of creating genograms. Some clinicians or individuals might choose to draw a genogram by hand for quick reference during a clinical session or medical meeting.

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