Exploring One’s Family-of-Origin and Generating a Genogram

Exploring One’s Family-of-Origin and Generating a Genogram


Bowen is an influential figure in family therapy and he has developed theoretical concepts to address questions of how to manage the irrationality in one’s family without giving up on the family altogether. However, he also recognized the challenge that most family and marital therapy is short-term therapy, where majority of clients are not prepared to give themselves the time to work on their family-of-origin issues that are affecting their existing relationship.

“It is difficult to communicate the notion that the basic degree of differentiation of self is a rather fixed quantity that is usually determined early in childhood by the degree of differentiation of the parents, and by the prevailing emotional climate in the family of origin. The degree of differentiation determines the life style of the person and thereafter change is difficult. One’s own level of differentiation is replicated in marriage following which one’s self is emotionally interlocked with parents in the past generation, the spouse in the present generation, and children in the future generation. Any change in this is difficult and accomplished only by change in the others (3, p. 93)” wrote Bowen. (Framo, 1976).


Bowen also emphasized the importance of the therapist maintaining a differentiated position with clients. He came to believe that the most powerful training ground for the therapist is work with his or her own family (McDaniel & Landau-Stanton, 1991), and working on one’s genogram is an avenue in understanding one’s family-of-origin.


Genogram is a visual mapping of multi-generations of a family which is used to organize, clarify, and explore family relationships in counselling. It is an assessment tool widely employed in the training of counsellors and therapists, as well as in the work of therapy with clients. The genogram is used in many different ways: from work with clients to explore issues of intimate relationship, sexuality and related problems, spirituality, decision making process, and cultural factors. Furthermore, genogram can be adapted to explore the multigenerational legacy of any issues within a clinical setting. The versatility of the genogram and its research applicability for multiple cultural contexts is beginning to be explored. Asian researchers suggested using genogram as a theoretical approach in exploring intergenerational dynamics especially for traditional families where three generations household are more common (Lim & Nakamoto, 2008).


In this assignment, you are appraised based on your understanding and conceptualization of the family-of-origin, as well as your genogram. The assignment is also an exercise to assess the your own transgenerational family dynamics, in terms of its structure, organisation and processes.


You are expected to identify family themes, beliefs, myths, scripts, and patterns of behaviour within the transgenerational genogram that are influencing your current family interactions, functions and roles.



The assignment should contain a three-generation genogram, and answer the following questions:




  • Describe your family in terms of its structure (e.g. open/closed, rigid/flexible family boundary) and organization (information share freely, hierarchical, etc).

I am a 25 year old woman, married to my husband who is 27 years old. We have known each other since we were 17 and 19 respectively. We just got married last December. I am currently pregnant with our first child due in December. My immediate family is made up of my parents, my younger sister and I. I would describe us as a close knitted family. My relationship with my parents has always been good and close. We constantly have open communication about any issues we may have. My relationship with my younger sister, who is 6 years younger than I, is slightly different. We are close but our relationship has evolved over time. We went through a period where we were really close and then we grew apart when she was 13 years old because she had an eating disorder- anorexia. When she was 17, she started seeking counselling treatment for her eating disorder and since then we are slowly getting closer again. Having said all that, my parents are quite conservative and we still uphold the basic beliefs of a Asian-Muslim family.

Some common beliefs: filial piety is important, mental disorders are viewed as taboo, family and society believes mental disorders can be cured simply by ‘praying’ to God.


As a family, we are generally closer to my maternal side of the family. My mother grew up in family where her parents were conservative and strict but there was open communication between her and her siblings. They have always been close. They still remain close which is why we are closer to my maternal side of the family. As for my paternal side, the relationship is cordial but is strained because me dad grew up in family where his parents (my paternal grandparents) were conservative, strict and rigid.


  • Indicate diagnosed medical or psychiatric history of family members including major events or crises, which are significant for you and your family.

Medical/Psychiatric history of family: My younger sister was diagnosed with an eating disorder, anorexia, since she was 13. (she’s currently 19) Early this year, upon entering the work force, she was diagnosed with panic disorder.


Why is this significant to my family and me? Her anorexia diagnosis has caused a bit of tension within my family as my parents were initially in denial about her condition. When her condition worsened and she started having physical and medical problems like constant fainting and when her period stopped altogether, it was only then that my parents accepted her condition. The next obstacle was deciding whether or not she should seek treatment professionally. This also caused tension within the family because my parents were afraid that seeking treatment would make it hard for her to find a job in the future if employers found out she had a ‘mental disorder’. And as mentioned, living and growing up in an Asian-Muslim family meant ‘mental disorders’ are not viewed positively. On the contrary, society views you as though there’s something wrong with you.


So when she was recently diagnosed with panic disorder and have to be on constant medication, it caused another turmoil of emotions within the family. My parents were concerned if the medications were going to have side effects, what happens if she does not take it, will she be reliant on them, etc.


Throughout this ordeal, I am supportive of her going for treatment but at times it can be frustrating to watch the person you care about dwindle and spiral down further and further into a sickness you have no control over.


  • What are some transgenerational patterns, themes, beliefs, myths, family scripts, or strengths/ weaknesses within the family that you have identified? How are these influencing your life, family, and clinical work.

Strengths within family: close knitted, open communication so even though we disagree sometimes, we can always talk about it openly.


Weaknesses within family: care too much about what society thinks/says


How it affects life/family/clinical work: Makes me understand the importance of open communication, honesty.

Makes me want to educate people about mental disorders. It is not something to be taken lightly or something someone can just “get over”.


  • Appraise how your family-of-origin has influenced your personal and professional development? Please elaborate with examples.


It has taught me to be more patient and accepting of people. It has opened my eyes to be more understanding of people. It has made me see people are different and have different ways of coping and making meaning of their experiences and feelings so to be able to help someone, I must first try to see the world from their perspective.

(Here you can talk about transference, counter transference theories- not bring my own biases about issues like eating disorders for example, into the counselling process in the future.)



Things to note:

  • 2000 words
  • APA format
  • At least 12 references
  • Write from 1st person point-of-view (I, my, etc).
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