A genogram is structurally similar to a family tree but serves a very different purpose. A genogram includes information about relationships and interactions between family members, while a family tree only depicts lineage.
What is a family tree?
A family tree is a chart or diagram that represents the relationships between generations of families over time. Names, birth dates, marriage dates, and pictures can be included in a family tree.
Also, a family tree can be simple, containing only immediate relatives, or it can span many generations. If this is the case, it makes it possible to discover where an individual came from, who his ancestors were and how he is linked to them.
People can use the family tree to check if they are direct descendants of a famous historical figure. Also to find out if all family members have the same last name.
Ultimately, a family tree is a visual representation of how closely a person is related to a particular family member.
Family tree structure
The structure of the family tree allows hierarchical data to be represented. This refers to data that is organized in a specific order at various levels.
In a family tree, the information, represented by family members, is organized in such a way that older generations appear at the top.
For their part, the younger or current generations are shown at the bottom, while brothers and sisters are placed on the same level.
The way of structuring the information in a family tree helps with the interpretation and understanding of data sets, with great freedom when choosing how to represent this information and even being able to create a creative and visually attractive family tree.
What is a genogram?
A genogram is a visual representation of a person’s family tree.
It can also represent intergenerational ties, as well as medical and mental health backgrounds. Because of this, the genogram is more detailed than the family tree, as it contains more information about the family and each individual.
Therefore, when members of a family attend family therapy, the therapist can use the genogram to learn more about the family as a whole, and about each member individually.
Even those who see a marriage counselor can use the genogram to see how different patterns in their families of origin affect their relationship. A genogram can also be used to investigate one’s relationship patterns, or to see how intergenerational trauma has affected them.
In a genogram, each individual is identified by the corresponding symbol. On the other hand, to represent their family ties, lines are drawn between individuals.
The symbols of a married couple, for example, are placed side by side with a black line representing their union. If it is a divorced couple, the genogram structure will include a red connecting line with two lines through it. This represents legal and emotional separation.
As for the children, they are placed below the parents, and the lines connecting them indicate whether the child is biological or adopted. Marks to show various diagnoses can also be included in each person’s symbol.
In fact, medical professionals can use these symbols to detect genetic predispositions to specific diseases. Regarding deceased people, they are represented with an X and their age at the time of death.
Beyond family ties and medical history, the genogram often includes lines that reflect emotional interactions between family members. This can include everything from positive and loving connections to estrangement and emotional abuse.
Differences between family tree and genogram
A genogram resembles a family tree in structure, but it has an entirely different purpose. As we have seen, a genogram contains information about family relationships and interactions. For its part, a family tree simply shows the lineage of a family.
Another difference between a genogram and a family tree is that the former can be used as a therapeutic tool to address conflicts and build strength. Also, the advantage of the genogram is that when it includes information from multiple generations, it becomes much more meaningful.