Incorporating Family Career Genogram

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Genogram is a graphic display of a person’s family traits, relationships and also medical history. They go far away from a traditional family tree as they allow the individual to visualize some hereditary patterns and psychological factors that can interrupt or help relationships. Genograms can also be used to identify recurring patterns of behaviors, choices and identify hereditary tendencies. Normally, genograms will illustrate three generations (Krasner-Khait, 2000). The person can use a variety of lines to indicate relationships and names (see example below). A genogram not only will identify the names of people that belong to the person’s family lineage, but also how those people interact with each other. Depends on the reason the person is using the genonogram, he/she may note the date of births, deaths, marriages and in the case of a career, the person might also include family members careers and positions as well.

In relation to career counseling, King (2010) stated if a person is not sure which field is right for him/her a genogram may be helpful. Genogram is a diagram, like a family tree, that represents the career positions of family members. It gives the person an idea of the types of jobs he/she may naturally be good at. Genogram can clearly reveal how the family career choices have influenced the person’s career preferences. There is no doubt that by identifying the family career choices the person can notice how his/her family members’ expectations had shaped his/her own career aspirations and decision making.


Sample of a career Genogram

Brief historical background

The origin of the use of the word “genogram” is still a mystery. The term genogram was first suggested in 1978 by Dr. Murray Bowen to substitute the longer term “family diagram”. Dr. Bowen started to use the new term “genogram” during the late 1960s by Bowen System Therapists and by the 1970s it was broadly accepted by the community. As the concept was broadly accepted in the promising field of family medicine, the North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG) undertook the job to standardize the symbols. The person involved in coordinating the standardization during the 1980s was Monica Goldrick (What is a Genogram?, 2011).

In 1985 through the publication of a book Genograms: Assessments and Interventions (1985), by Monica Goldrick and Randy Gerson the term was rapidly popularized in clinical settings. Since then the use of genogram has been used by various professional field such as education, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, genetics and many more. Throughout the time, genograms have been used to incorporate observations about medical history and major traits of each member of the family. Genograms have been also used as instruments to uncover intergenerational models of behaviors, family conflicts and alliances, marriages, family secrets, careers, and any other information that will explain the person’s family’s current situation (What is a Genogram?, 2011).

Basic genogram symbols

Genograms are graphics that includes simple symbols that gives information about the family member such as gender and it also includes various lines to illustrate the relationships between them. In a genogram males are represented by a square and female by circles. When illustrating a family, a horizontal line is usually connecting the two parents. The children are below from oldest to youngest and from right to left (What is a Genogram?, 2011).


In a genogram the males are represented by a square on the left and female by circles on the right.

When developing a standard genogram, there are usually three different types of children; natural or biological, adopted child, and foster child. If there is a triangle, it represents a pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage. If it is a miscarriage, a diagonal cross is drawn on top of the triangle to specify the death of the fetus; in the case of an abortion, the illustration is similar but with an additional horizontal line. A still birth will be demonstrated the same as it’s a gender, with the difference that the gender symbol is twice as small though the diagonal cross remains the same size (What is a Genogram?, 2011).


In a family relationship, a horizontal line is used to describe the union of two people but also it could change to describe other family relationships such as separation, divorce, engagement, and so on. The following are the most common symbols used in a family genogram:


This is a typical representation of a married couple; there is no special distinction between a religious or civil marriage.


This graphic represent a married couple not longer living together; the separation is displayed by an oblique line across the horizontal line.


This graphic represent a married couple is separated and have started a legal procedure to be divorced.


This graphic represent a married couple has already been divorced.


This graphic represent that one of the spouse died during the marriage.

Although there is a universal understanding on the basic genogram structure and the usage of symbols, there have been some variations from time to time or from author to another. According to GenoPro (2010), as long as the person follows the four basic rules to build a genogram, people will be able to understand the work (What is a Genogram?, 2011).

Males should be always at the left and females always at the right.

In case of ambiguity, always assume a male and female relationship rather that male to male and so on.

A spouse should be always being close to his/her partner, then the second and so on.

Oldest child should be always at the left and the youngest ant the right of the family.

Genograms in counseling strategies

According to Gibson (2005), genograms have been applied effectively in career counseling with adults; however it has been limited use in career counseling with elementary, middle and high school students. A career genogram can be used to show how parental expectations and role models influence career aspirations and educational decisions that can be valuable in helping students in reach their goals. The use of genogram in career counseling offer the student and counselor a clear method of assessing and identifying the career patterns in the child’s family. The use of family career genoram is a good way to start improving the student’s career awareness. This exercise will help support communication between the student and the rest of family members as well as to teach different interview and assessment techniques that will eventually help his/her adulthood career development competencies.

According to Niles and Harris-Bowlsbey (2008), adults need to develop positive self-concept or competencies that include a precise understanding of their strengths, interests, abilities, and values and how those characteristics may influence their career decisions. Regarding graduates and adults, career genogram is an effective tool to establish career goals. If the person has a specific interest, the genogram will help on narrow down the career choices in a shorter amount of time. Career genogram might also assist in counseling adults in changing career paths. When developed, the genogram most likely will include different types of jobs or career that can be recognized by different family members (King, 2010).

According to Magnuson (2004), family genograms are usually used in the perspective of family counseling, provide a discussion for explaining influences and trends that changes over time and across generations. Genograms can be developed mostly to document a range of family dynamics. They also could be designed with a more concise focus, such as discovering the influence of family on an individual’s career decision making process. Career genogram might assist in counseling adults by assisting the client to gather vital information for the life planning process. It might also help recognize patterns that can be of assistance in the career choice process. By developing a genogram, the person will learn to identify his/her strengths and possible limitations of his/her future career.

Counselors use it to find out a wide range of information about the family that may not be measured or acknowledge with regular questionnaires or interviews. When discussed with the family this process helps clients generate options for change. Several clients have found an increased understanding of their families revealed ideas about career.

Other uses of genogram


Genograms are also used in marriage and family counseling as well as in individual therapy to describe chronological and present information. In family and or marriage counseling, it can show emotions attached to marriage or family roles. Families can recognize the values and strengths of their constructive family patterns and discover problem notions in order to stay away from repeating the same negative behaviors in the future. In individual counseling, genogram might point out recurrent episodes that have impacted the person’s self-concept in positive or negative ways and assist the person make mindful choices so will develop healthy patterns and decline those that have harm healthy growth and development (Joy, 2010).


Genograms are used in health care to classify or identify illness, disease and at unsafe lifestyles in the families. It can be used to discover and describe heart disease that goes from generations to generations and first and foremost affecting males. Genograms may be utilized to document family history of obesity as well as diabetes. It can be used to show that an illness may be rejected due to certain lifestyle changes. Genograms may also assist physicians recognize illnesses that have a genetic, element such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia (Joy, 2010).

Personal reflection on the use of a genogram

Career genogram might assist in counseling adults by assisting the client to gather vital information for the life planning process. It can also help to recognize patterns that can help in the career choice process. By developing a genogram, the person will learn to identify his/her strengths and possible limitations of his/her future career. One of the trends in my family is that our family rules played an important role in forecasting the family member’s behaviors and beliefs thus career decision making. For example, my family was raised in a healthy and functional environment which made us being more resilient and develops autonomy. Although most of us worked in the bank industry in a certain time of our careers, our beliefs and the way we were raised will certainly have an effect on our career development. It helped us have more flexibility in choosing a career and knowing what we want from a specific career. Not all of the family members went to college and only two of us have graduate degrees.

As each family member was preparing for his/her professional life, our parents encouraged us to have personal autonomy while remaining related or connected to the family. They never imposed a specific idea or profession as long as we do it with dignity and respect. We had the opportunity to discuss with the family our needs and problems which gave us the support necessary to develop maturity in our career decision process.

Another pattern, biases, or diversity found while doing a career genogram is that each one of us chose a different career path but all of them are involved in helping or assisting others. Although I am the only one in between my brothers and sisters currently working in the mental health field, there are already members of the next generation (nephews, nieces and cousins) showing interest in the field as well. One of this writer future goals is to have a private practice or own business which is a common trend as few of my family members have already been entrepreneurs or business owners.

Career counseling helps the client build high motivational level by understanding the person’s professional needs and wants. Genogram is an important tool in career counseling process as it helps with various aspects of personal insight, support and greater understanding based on family history. Along with other interventions, genogram help the counselor achieve one of the ultimate goals of career counseling which is to ensure that every client set goals and give his/her best in reaching them while understanding his/her strengths and values not to only enhance his/her work skills but to reveal the person’s hidden ingenuity.

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