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THE GENEOGRAM: THE FAMILY TREE AS A TOOL I keep six honest serving-men, (They taught me all I knew) Their names are What and Where and When And How and Why and Who. R. Kipling, Just So Stories A geneogram is a visual diagram of family relatedness, structure and history. It combines the usual demographic date such as age, sex and marital status with the dates of important life events such as births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. The geneogram also graphically represents the skeletal relationship structure of two or more generations of a family upon which their collisions, patterns, bonds, and the transgenerational passage of their culture may be superimposed. Gathering information is only one of the many functions of the geneogram. For example, the geneogram functions as an educational tool. It can educate the family into an organic view of itself, provide a rationale for changes in secrecy boundaries between family members, and allows a working blueprint for change to be explained clearly to the family involved. The process of construction within the session can engage all family members in a common task, neutralise destructive conflicts temporarily and bridge intergenerational barriers. The geneogram also allows the therapist a quick and thorough entry into the family's cultural development, tradition, and belief, enabling the therapist to make sense out of the gestalt of those family members present in the therapy session. Finally the geneogram provides a neutral task which may relieve the anxiety of a new therapist when confronting the <end of page 68> unknown, possibly hostile or engulfing family. Construction of the Geneogram The geneogram may be constructed on a blackboard in the office in the presence of one or more family members, or it may be drawn by each family member on paper once the symbols used in its construction have been explained. After having been taught the means of construction of a geneogram family members can be asked to construct their own diagrams at home. In this way they can gather information from sources in their family at home to fill in missing data about their family. Figure 4.1 Key to Geneograms The symbols used in the construction of a geneogram are shown in Figure 4.1. These simple symbols can be used to build up a picture of the most complex family structures. A solid line (______) between a circle and a square indicates along-term union, either a marriage or a longstanding relationship such as common-law marriage. It is a symbol indicating that heterosexual bonding has been established. A broken line (------) between a circle and a square indicated a short-term sexual liaison, such as an affair which may be included because of its importance to the development of the family quandary. A line descending from the union between a man and a woman, whether a marriage (solid line) or an affair (broken line) indicates the offspring or issue of that relationship. Children are usually listed in order of birth date from left to right, including miscarriages, and are joined on a solid horizontal line if they are full siblings. Full names may be written above each of the circles and squares and ages may be written within them. Marriage dates are written above the union line while dates of separation and divorce are written immediately below the union line. <end of page 69> Figure 4.2 Geneogram of a Nuclear Family http://www.genopro.com/genogram/ http://www.genopro.com/genogram/Sample.aspx http://www.genopro.com/genogram/emotional-relationships/ Figure 4.2 is a visual representation of a nuclear family. The geneogram at its present stage reveals that Mrs. Eva Mae (Rees) Smollett, a 54-year old housewife, married a lawyer, Henry James Smollett, on the 29 February 1948. Following a miscarriage in 1950, they produced a daughter in 1954 named Rose Mae, and a son, Ian Noel, in 1957. Seven years later, in 1963, Eva had an affair with an unnamed man and separated from her husband. The separation was temporary. So far the geneogram depicts a two-generational family structure whose fourth-dimensional origin occurred with the marital bond in 1948. That bond was stressed by an affair and temporary separation in 1963. Figure 4.3 continues the geneogram construction further back in time and into the extended family including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Arthur Michael Rees, a farmer, and Rose Mae married in 1922. They had three children, Kevin, Neal and Eva Mae. Their respective ages at the time of the interview were sixty, fifty-eight and fifty-four. Neither Kevin nor Neal married. Arthur Rees died in 1963 while Rose Mae died in 1967. George Smollett, a lawyer, married his wife, Rose in 1919. They had two children, George Andrew, fifty- eight, and Henry James. For convenience the convention of listing offspring by date of birth from left to right has been ignored in order to show the combination of the two families of origin at the time of marriage. The ages within the circles or squares and the dates of birth give enough <end of page 70> <Page 71 is entirely composed of figure 4.3 in Landscape orientiation> Figure 4.3 A geneogram of an Extended Family <end of page 71> information to keep the birth order straight. Alternatively, separate diagrams for each side of the family may be done before combining them. To continue the description of the family shown in Figure 4.3, George Andrew married and had two daughters whose names and ages were unavailable. Rose Smollett died in 1940 while Rose Mae Rees died in 1967 from unnamed causes. Arthur Michael Rees died in 1963 from a heart attack, and George Smollett died in 1957 from unnamed causes. A comparison of the foregoing diagrams with their written explanations should clarify the usefulness of drawing out the family structure rather than writing it down. The organised visual display depicts relationships with an overview lacking in the verbal description. Up to this point the family diagrammed has been a relatively simple one. There are families whose complexities can tax the imagination in attempting to record their geneogram. Three of the most common complexities are reconstituted families, multiple births, and adoption. The geneogram can be of special use in recording reconstituted families. The therapist can clearly delineate the origin of each of the various children in the family to himself as well as to the family members who may never have encountered such a factual display of the structural anomalies in their family. Figure 4.4 shows all of the previously mentioned complexities in one geneogram. The family is actually a composite of several families. June and David Rudge were married in 1950 and produced three children, Joan, and twins Simon and Justin. The twins are represented on a separate vertical line branching into two further vertical lines. That they are twins should be clear from their single date of birth as well as their equal ages. David Rudge died in 1955 in a car accident. June remarried in 1960 to Barry Hamblin. Barry had been previously married from 1958 to Heather who was pregnant with Margaret prior to marriage. On his divorce in 1960, in which June was "the other woman", he remarried to June. Heather remarried in 1965 to Mark Sutcliffe who was fifteen years older than she. Heather had again been pregnant prior to marriage. She gave birth to John in 1966 and three years later gave birth to Josie, now a ten-year-old mentally subnormal child. June and Barry found that they couldn't have children so they adopted Dora in 1970. Mark Sutcliffe adopted his stepdaughter, Margaret, in 1970. Margaret married in 1978. In this composite family it would be possible to imagine that Margaret and her husband were referred for marital problems and that Margaret still maintained relationships with all of her relatives. It should be clear from the geneogram that there are solutions to drawing the most tangled of family relationships. <end of page 72> <Page 73 is entirely composed of Figure 4.4 in landscape orientation> Figure 4.4 A Complex Reconstituted Family <end of page 73> So far my description has been limited to the mechanics of constructing a geneogram. This description has been necessary in order to convey to the reader the methods of recording, but has not yet dealt with the dynamic construction process. The Process of Geneogram Construction The production of the geneogram is a process in which the family members and the therapist must co-operate. The process is complex and may involve a lengthy interaction between the family members, the therapist and the diagram being constructed. It is within that process that the geneogram ceases to be a sterile shorthand of history and relatedness. It becomes instead a tool used to explore the family quandary, its origins and its possible solutions. Diagrams of the geneogram being constructed have been placed at appropriate intervals within the transcript in order to show its build up throughout the session. Therapist I know that you have been admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa but you were unable to keep to the regimen and your discharge caused a great deal of discomfort among your family. I look at things from a family point of view so you might find things strange at first. I'd like you each to tell me how this illness is a problem for you. Angry silence). Brother (George) Someone has to say something! Father (Richard) Our problems don't necessarily arise out of Doreen's illness. There were problems simmering beneath the surface before that surfaced, erupted and then went back again. <end of page 74> Therapist Sometimes problems get buried and come back in different ways. Father That's right. It was unfortunate that when Doreen first developed this I had trouble at work and the frustration was taken home. There were lots of changes. I coped with them but I snapped their heads off at home. Therapist Can I interrupt for a second. I like to draw diagrams of the families I see on the blackboard. How old are you Doreen? (See Figure 4.5) Sister (Doreen) Twenty-two Therapist How old are you? What's your name? Brother George Therapist Who were you named after? Father He was named something else but we found they didn't like it in Ireland. Therapist What was that? Father Named Patrick but apparently that's a Catholic name so we changed it. Therapist Your name is? Mother Jillian Victoria. Therapist And your age? Mother Fifty-eight. Therapist And you are...? Father Richard Arthur and I'm fifty-two. Therapist So you are six years older than your husband. George, did you know that you were named Patrick? Brother Yes. But I've never been called it. I have two birth certificates. Therapist Different years? Father No. You can change the name within three months. Therapist I didn't know that. And when were you two born? Brother 2 October 1955. Sister 8 May 1952 Figure 4.5 The Process of Geneogram Construction, I <end of page 75> Therapist Now we were talking about... Father How I brought short-temperedness home with me. It's always been a family trait, but the three of us have it in a different form than Mick. Therapist Which three? Mick? Who's Mick? (Laughter) Father That's the name she's called. That's the Irish part of her. Mother Don't you write that down. Therapist And you are not Irish? Father No. I'm English. I flare and forget. She flares and then she sulks for days. Sister If there's a feud she will go away to her bedroom and sulk. But we'll sit and fume in the sitting room. Father But we tend to forget afterwards. Mick at times will bring things back that have happened in the past next time she flares. Brother I'm surprised she can remember them. Therapist I've suddenly realised looking at you in the office and looking at your family geneogram on the board how isolated it looks. There are just the four of you. Is that actually true? (See Figure 4.6). Father Well, I mean, let's face it, I have a sister, one sister. Mother Oh dear. You want to put all that down. There won't be room on the board for my side. Father I have one sister and one nephew. Therapist One sister who is married and has a son. Father My nephew is married and has two daughters. The only other relatives I have are two cousins, one in Canada and one who lives in Hastings. Mother And you never see any of them. Therapist Your parents are dead? Father Yes. My family were never close unlike Mick's side which is close knit. Therapist Are your family in Ireland or over here? (See Figure 4.7) Mother They are all over the world but mostly in Ireland. Therapist So you are cut off. Father Yes, she's the odd one out. That of course has a bearing on our problems, must have. Mother Yes, and more so now because until these last few years I used to go regularly every year, but since The Troubles over there I can't bear to go there. It's awful. I know I ought to go because my father is elderly and I want to see him. <end of page 76> <All of page 77 taken up with figures 4.6 and 4.7 one above another, portrait> Figure 4.6 The Process of Geneogram Construction, II Figure 4.7 The Process of Geneogram Construction, III <end of page 77> Therapist How about your mother? Is she still alive? Mother No. She died thirteen years ago. But the way things are over there, I look at The Troubles in a different way than them and it causes friction. I've lived in England most of my life since the war so I look at it from an English point of view. My sister came over with me to join up but she got married instead. Therapist Is that when the two of you met? Mother Yes. We met at a dance. He was passing through on the way to Africa. Father It became a competition. All the blokes were after her and they were on permanent staff and I was in a transient unit. She was very popular. Therapist Why was that? Father She was good looking, a good figure and all. Mother Compliments are flying aren't they? Father She was a good dancer. She was good fun, and very sociable in those days. Mother See what you have done to me. Look at me now! Therapist You tend to do it to each other, don't you? That's the trouble with marriage; it ruins great romances. Mother It does. It should be abolished. Therapist We're kind of talking about and around sex really. How has that side of your relationship gone? Its not the kind of thing you like to talk about in front of children. I don't want to spread out the lurid details but I'm wondering if you two were ever content with the physical side of it. Mother You mean since we were married? Therapist Or before. Mother Oh not before - there wasn't any physical relationship before, only petting and kissing. Therapist But you never had sexual intercourse before you were married? (Silence) Mother Oh come on. You may as well be honest, if we are going to bring that up at all. I wouldn't let him. Therapist You mean he tried. Mother Definitely. You might as well be honest. Father Well if we're going to be honest let's be honest. I was pretty pushy back then and I got what I wanted. Brother I can't imagine him every feeling that way. I accept that he probably did but I can't imagine it. <end of page 78> Therapist So you don't come across that way to George. Father No. I think I come across on the cold side to them. I'm emotional inside but I strain to control it. It comes out most when I'm angry. Therapist But it doesn't come out in other ways like sadness, love or those soft feelings? Father They can answer that better than I can. Doreen can twist me around her little finger. Brother He's tougher with me. Mother You get everything you want, too. Therapist How about you? Mother Oh I don't get anything. I don't. I've stopped asking. (Laughter all round) Therapist Does that include sexual relations? Father We stopped it. She didn't want it so we stopped. Three years ago around the time of Doreen's illness. Since Mick had the change of life. Therapist So your periods stopped three years ago and Doreen's never started? Sister Mine started and then they stopped when my mother stopped. Therapist So you are going through the menopause with your mother? (Roars of laughter) Doreen I don't get hot flushes or anything. Therapist So your relationship must have changed in some way three years ago. Before that did you enjoy your relationship? Mother Its not something you want to discuss before your family is it? Therapist No. I'm not saying you should. But what I would like to do is get the two of you on your own so we can explore the effects of this change away from the children. Brother I object to being called a child. Therapist Well you are a child to them aren't you? Father No. Sister Of course he is. Mother Oh, he is. Brother Because they are used to treating me as a child they still treat me as a child in many respects, but when I go away to University I'm treated as an adult. Mother You ask to be treated like a child sometimes. All children <end of page 79> do until they get married and go away. Therapist Is that what it was like with you? (See Figure 4.8) Mother Yes. The Paisleys were like that. My parents never interfered after I married. Therapist And who is the dominant one of you two? Father She has to be dominant. Therapist Yes, I should have guessed that because that's the way the sexual side has gone as well. Father She comes from a matriarchal family and has continued to exercise that. Therapist Did you know that when you married? Mother No, well he didn't know it until it was too late. Therapist So there are two big areas of conflict between you two with the kids trapped in between. First is the sexual conflict and the second is who controls the family. If you both come from different families, brought up in different ways... Mother Yes, his father was just like him. My sister is the only one who lets her husband run the family. Therapist Does being like his father turn you off of him? I mean is that one of the reasons you're not able to be close together? Mother No Therapist Does he turn you off? Mother Completely! Therapist Is it that you don't like him any more or are not in love with him any more. Mother Yes, I'm afraid that is it. It's no use beating about the bush saying I do if I don't, is there? I suppose my feelings have just gradually worked off over the years. Therapist You have just fallen out of love with him? Mother I don't even like him, I hate him - no I don't wish him harm, I don't hate him. Father She has hated me for thirteen years! Therapist That would be back in 1961. What happened back then other than your mother dying? Father Ah yes, but something happened before her mother died that caused it. She had an affair with another man and I turned to someone else myself. Mother Richard had another woman and he wanted to divorce me and take the children as well. Therapist I see. Did you know about this? Brother Yes, but it is only recently that we've been told. <end of page 80> Sister I felt before that there had been something like that. I wasn't surprised. I didn't worry, and I don't think George thought about it, he was out of the house. Therapist But you two stayed together. Mother Well, he wanted a divorce and he wanted the children and I knew that he couldn't have the children so I took them and went to Ireland for a change and I was there for four weeks when my mother died from a heart attack. And then Richard came over for the funeral and he asked me to come back and promised that things would be different. Figure 4.8 The Process of Geneogram Construction, IV <end of page 81> Therapist So here is one of the fundamental arguments. Father I feel that I fulfilled my part of the bargain, that I have but she has not. She has never forgiven me and never will. Therapist You two don't have a very good model for marriage do you? Sister But I have to live with it. No wonder I've been depressed almost all my life. Brother But we don't have to follow that model do we? Sister But I can't get out. I mean I'm stuck. I've got nowhere to go. He's alright. He's at University so he's well out of it but if I leave I don't know what will happen to them. Therapist Even if you leave you won't stop your way of thinking about them. Mother What can we do about it? Father She'll have to learn to live with it until she conquers this emotional bond she has to live with. Therapist Which bond? (See Figure 4.9) Father The bond which makes you worry even if you weren't there. I've been through it with my parents. My sister opted out. She was at nursing school and she got married and opted out completely. And I was stuck at home. Mother Well, of course we lived with them for five years after we were married and they were always fighting and... Father I was always there and even when we were on our own I still had this worry, this emotional conflict over the fight that went on at home between my mother and my father and my sister... Therapist Are you the younger brother? Father Yes. My sister is the same age as my wife. And when my mother died, my father lived for some years afterwards. You would never know that they argued because as far as he was concerned the only things that existed were the happy times and I wondered then why I fought and battled with them both to keep them together. Therapist Its terrible what parents do to their children, isn't it? Mother It is. I don't think people should have any more. Sister No children, no world. Therapist If you didn't have Doreen or if she starves herself to death then you could split? Father You are assuming that we want to split. She might want to split but I don't. Mother That's what we're trying to avoid. Doreen starving to death. As for me leaving where would I go? <end of page 82> Doreen They can't agree on anything. Therapist It seems to me that families are composed of different units and it sounds as if your marital, your parent unit is the major problem and that you are both reacting in different ways, opposing ways to the quandary you're in. Mother You're right. That's exactly it. Therapist And Doreen and George are doing the same thing that you and your sister did with your parents. Father You see, even when my mother died there was conflict between me and my father and my sister over the Will and the possessions. Therapist When did she die, your Mom? Mother Twenty-three years ago wasn't it? Brother 1951. Therapist So Doreen wasn't born then. Father Doreen was conceived after my mother died because my wife wanted to start a family then. Mother I don't remember that. Father Well, its true. It was your choice. Therapist Rather than his? Mother I wouldn't say rather than his. It was one of the few joint things we made. Therapist See that. No wonder you're stuck. No wonder you can't opt out. How about George? Was he planned? Mother He was planned. He didn't just happen. Brother I'm surprised. Father Ten years after we were married she had him planned. We lost one between Doreen and George, at three months. Therapist I didn't know that. How did that affect you? Mother Well, don't forget that the first six years of our married life we lived in two rooms in his father's house and that was a very unhappy time for me. Therapist How did you get on with his father? Mother Very, very badly. In fact, for years he never spoke to me and I used to take pills for my stomach all the years we stayed in that house. I felt that Richard was happy there with his father and mother and he didn't want to move. He had everything and even though it was affecting my health he wouldn't do anything about it. Therapist When were you married? Father 1945, in August. Mother So in fact we have a very bad start right from the beginning. <end of page 83> Figure 4.9 The Process of Geneogram Construction, V Therapist Well, time is moving on and I think we'll have to stop there. I want to see the two of you alone next time. I don't know if you have learned anything new today about your parents but if you can... Father They must have. They said they didn't know she was good looking. Therapist ...If you can go away at least remembering that the family quandary has to do with them and not with you I think you'll have gained something. <end of page 84> Brother I think we dimly realised that before we came. Therapist Yes, well maybe none of the other doctors spelled it out. As I see it Doreen has to learn to be able to opt out more while you two have to come to some sort of resolution, and you need someone else to do it because you've been at it for several decades without doing it on your own. Mother What will happen to your lovely little picture now. You'll have to rub it out, won't you? Therapist No, I'm going to copy it down on to paper. I'm afraid we haven't spent any time on anorexia. But it didn't seem as important. Mother No, we haven't, have we? Sister Thank God. The Geneogram as a Tool The history-taking process logically extends to use of the geneogram as an educational aid. The family must be apprised of the basic premise of family therapy; that the family is an organism. To family members labelled with an individual illness such as depression, agoraphobia or frigidity, this concept is an alien one which must be taught. The interlinked structure of a geneogram provides a lucid illustration of the family organism. The family educational process can then proceed to the transgenerational model of the family organism possessing the fourth dimension of time. Repetitive patterns which are visible in the geneogram structure from generation to generation can illustrate this point. In fact, most of the concepts applying to family therapy can be usefully taught to families using the geneogram which has been drawn on a blackboard in front of the family during the session.
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