Genograms: How to Use Them With Your Therapy Patients

Develop Your Own Family Genogram

It is recommended that we spend some time working on developing our own family genograms to avoid having our own issues played out with our clients. For example, if you grew up in a primary triangle with your mother against your father, you are likely to end up feeling comfortable colluding with a mother client and leaving the father client out of the picture.

When undertaking family exploration for yourself, the goal would be to understand your role in your family system and potentially change your own behavior, not the behavior of another member.

To do so, map out at minimum, information about three generations of your family. Next, note what information gaps exist and how you might try to go about filling them. can be a helpful resource for any family that was in the U.S. before 1940.

We tend to make assumptions and judgments about others in our family based upon their behavior in relation to us and not by events that took place prior or apart from our experience of them.

Exploring your genogram history will enable you to start to making systemic sense of your family’s history over time and notice that things you assumed to be true are not always the case.

This type of exploration of imagining the experiences of your ancestors and current family and putting yourself in their shoes before you plan any meaningful systemic change is likely to facilitate your genogram work with your clients as you imagine your clients and their family members’ struggles with other members of their families.

Questions Regarding Your (Therapist’s) Family

  • What family patterns or themes are most likely to be triggers?
  • How might your family of origin experiences influence your relating to personality types you find difficult?
  • What family messages did you receive about interacting with those who are different from you? (such as race, gender, religion, disabilities etc.)
  • How did your family deal with difficult emotions (such as conflict, grief etc.)?
  • What were the major triangles in your family, and what steps might you take to de-triangle from any that still exist?
  • How might you want to change to be more yourself with your family?

Lastly, to see McGoldrick demonstrate the use of genograms in a couple of cases from her book, see:

Genograms: How to Use them With Your Therapy Clients
Click to see full-sized infographic



Reference: McGoldrick, M. (2016). The Genogram casebook: A Clinical companion to genograms: Assessment and intervention. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Dorlee Michaeli, MBA, LMSW, is a therapist at an outpatient mental health clinic and fellow at a psychoanalytic training institute. She also works as a financial social work and social media consultant. You can find her at www.SocialWork.Career, twitter and instagram.


Genograms: How to Use Them With Your Therapy Patients


APA Reference
Michaeli, D. (2016). Genograms: How to Use Them With Your Therapy Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 27, 2019, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Aug 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Aug 2016
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