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What are the advantages & disadvantages of constructing genograms?

Updated February 21, 2017

A genogram is a more complicated version of a family tree that uses symbols and shapes to illustrate connections and patterns among family members. A genogram differs from the typical family tree, as a family tree simply links child to parent while a genogram also establishes information about family members' major life events, experiences and even illnesses. If you are constructing a genogram, there are some disadvantages, as well as benefits, to consider.

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Medical History

One reson that so many people are interested in their family history is because of their curiosity about hereditary diseases and medical issues. According to GenoPro, a medical genogram can illustrate diseases that run in a family while helping to determine any present patterns. By establishing a pattern, it could be possible to anticipate susceptibility to a disease or illness that runs in the family.

Emotional Relationships

A genogram can also be used to illustrate how certain family members feel about other family members. You can use symbols to connect one member to another, and the symbols can show feelings. For example, if a dashed, black line representing hostility is drawn from one relative to another, it means that those two family members do not get along. This can be particularly useful for therapeutic purposes. Some therapists and psychologists will ask patients to construct a genogram for the purposes of reducing self-blame and resolving issues among family members.


Because symbols are used to represent ties and history on a genogram, it is possible to include a plethora of information on one genogram. By using symbols and having a legend, you can view both medical history and emotional connections at the same time. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the situation. If a therapist or psychiatrist is reviewing the genogram, only the emotional connections may be of interest. If a medical doctor is reviewing the genogram, medical history may be the main focus. Members of the person's family may be interested in both medical and emotional details.


One possible problem with genograms has to do with their reliability. The person making the genogram has to rely on information from members or friends of that family, and this information could easily be incorrect. Everyone sees things differently and remembers the past with some bias. This can especially be a problem when illustrating the feelings one member has toward another. One family member may think that a mom and daughter have an excellent relationship, whereas a different family member may have a completely different perception.

Limited Space

Because it is so detailed, most genograms only illustrate a few generations at a time. This can cause difficulty when it comes to recognising medical history over generations, or established patterns. One solution to this is to make one genogram per generation, but this is a lot of work compared to a family tree, which can show many generations at one time.

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About the Author

Lacy Nichols is a graduate of Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where she earned a Bachelor of Science in communication and English. She has written and produced several radio advertisements and commercials, with publications in several literary magazines as well.

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