Genogram in Social Work: Worth a Thousand Words?


What is a genogram?

A genogram is a picture worth a thousand words!

It offers a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships and medical history.

What is genogram in social work?

A genogram uses a set of symbols to help social workers understand family dynamics.

It is a useful tool for social work professionals to help gather information about a person’s family.

It can also be an organised chart of a person’s family background and medical history.

It goes beyond a simple traditional family tree and shows the dynamics of a family over multiple generations.

You can think of it as a really detailed family tree.

You may also find this article on Ecomaps useful.

Why are genograms important?

Genograms were first used in the 1960s as a means of ‘tracking a presenting problem thorough the generations’ (Bowen, 1978). In social work practice, they were made popular by the work of Maria McGoldrick and Randy Gerson (1985).

Genograms and ecomaps are like chronologies (the arrangement of events or dates in order of how they occur).

Genograms or monograms are also a key part of the process of assessment in social work and other professions, such as nursing.

Genograms are not just a pictorial display of relationships, it must include professional judgement about what you need to include, and how to interpret it is key in analytical assessments.

You may find this article interesting: Ultimate Guide on Social Work Ecomaps

Just like chronologies, genograms are and ecomaps are both an easy and quick way to visualise events and family relationships. It gives you a snapshot of who people are and where they fit in to the family dynamics, and it is vital in the work we do as social workers.

genogram and family tree


What is included in a genogram?

  1. A genogram uses a set of special symbols to help describe relationships.
  2. It can represent a family tree.
  3. Genograms contain a wealth of information that analyses the family’s background and ancestors and their behavioural inclinations in determining what personal traits their future offspring may inherit.

What is the importance of genogram?

  1. It can help you identify themes or patterns within a family that may be influencing or driving a person’s current behaviour.
  2. It can help social workers absorb at a glance, key information with a high level of accuracy.
  3. It can be used in assessment as well as interventions.
  4. Genograms show a graphical representation of family relationships showing the quality and proximity of relationships and patterns across generations.
  5. Genograms can be used as a visual tool to encourage young people to talk about their family.
  6. It allows a person to tell their story at their own pace.
  7. Information gathered can help a worker to be more sensitive and empathetically respond to elements of the story presented.

What are the genogram symbols?

Genograms basic symbols include but are not limited to the following;

  • Square for males
  • Circle for females
  • Triangle usually used for a pregnancy or sometimes for a person with unknown gender (and sometimes a question mark).
  • A cross through a symbol shows the person is dead

What does a Genogram look like?

In a genogram, you will find symbols representing a person and their family. It shows key information about an individual and their family. Below is an example of genogram template:

Genogram in social work

How to draw a genogram Taken from Launer, J. Narrative-based primary care: a practical guide. Oxford: Radcliffe, 2002.


How do you read a genogram?

Before you can read a genogram, you need an understanding of what the symbols mean.

This to help you have an accurate, straightforward and inclusive representation of a person’s life.

You may find this article on social work ecomaps interesting to read.

What are the steps to creating a genogram?

There are 8 Steps in Making a Detail-Oriented Family Genogram.

To begin a genogram, you will need the following:

A genogram legend or a symbol key.

Step 1: Gather information from all family members.

In order to gain some background information for your work, you will need to gather information from family members.

This will help you determine how many generations can be displayed on the genogram.

Step 2: Research

You should then do some research on the information gathered to determine ages, date of birth, whether living/dead, date of death, marital status, and any other basic information for each individual.

Step 3: Choose a family genogram template

You can choose a family genogram template or pick one already made.

A genogram generator can also help with building a template.

To build or create an already made genogram, you could use Genopro.

You can also find a genogram software or a genogram maker which can assist with building a genogram.

Step 4: Prepare the layout and format.

Organise the initial layout of your genogram by identifying the genogram symbols you want to use.

This will help with the organisation of the genogram family.

Preparing an initial layout will also help identify where there are gaps to be filled or areas you may need clarification on when you next speak with family members.

Step 5: Get all the vital information.

Organise the information you already know by noting them on paper.

Once you have this, you can then make contact with family members again to ask specific questions about family history and other significant events.

You can also explore emotional relationships which can provide an in-dept analysis of how members of the family relate to each other.

Step 6: Finalise genogram symbols and key to use

Place your content accordingly and be sure to use the appropriate structure and symbols in your genogram chart.

The symbols represent a visual indicator of the information gathered during your conversation with family members.

Make sure you also validate relationships and dates with family members as you finalise the family genogram.

Step 7: Tidy up

Scrutinise your family genogram to ensure the genogram symbols are correct and represent what you want them to represent with no ambiguity.

Ensure the genogram keys are also representing the correct elements and are in its proper place. An essential social work skill you need to complete a genogram is attention to detail.

Step 8: Pay attention to detail

You may want to go over the family genogram a couple of times to ensure its contents are correct.

You may enlist the help of a friend or colleague to check it for you.

social work genogram

Best Practices for Making a Genogram with Service Users or Clients

When using genograms in social work practice, the following best practices are recommended:

  • Consult with family members as they have details of significant events.
  • Use an exchange model approach to guide your approach.
  • Use the genogram as the starting point for discussion with clients or service users.
  • Incorporate strengths-based approach as well. This means that you should explore the individuals’ areas of resilience and how they have built their own resilience over the years.
  • Ensure your interviews are person centred to help you create a genogram client-centred diagram.
  • Track key event dates example, death/traumatic events.
  • Illustrate all members of a family system going back at least three generations.
  • Ensure that the type of relationship or connection is specified for as many family members as possible, but especially those relationships that directly involve the service user/client.
  • Capture as much family history and individual information as possible.
  • Strive to focus on family strengths and resilience.
  • The social worker or practitioner should encourage service users or clients to engage in the process. This may involve establishing rapport and getting to the know the individual better. There needs to be an open system of communication and some flexibility to change their personal connections and have meaningful relationships.

To help, McGoldrick recommends 4 rules for relationships:

  • Don’t attack
  • Don’t defend
  • Don’t pacify
  • Don’t shut down


Abazi, L. (2016). The Genogram in Helping Relationship. European Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, 1(1), 108–111.

Asen E, Tomson & D, Young V , et al. (2004). Ten minutes for the family: systemic interventions in primary care. London: Routledge.

Introduction to Genogram. Available from

Launer, J. (2002). Narrative-based primary care: a practical guide. Oxford: Radcliffe.

McGoldrick, M. (2016). The Genogram Casebook: A Clinical Companion to Genograms: Assessment and intervention. New York: W.W Norton and Company.

Marlin E. (1989). Genograms. Contemporary Books, Chicago.

North West Coast Strategic Clinical Networks and Senate. Guidelines for the use of genograms in palliative care. Liverpool: NWCSCNS. (accessed 1 Aug 2017)

Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board. Guidance for practitioners completing chronologies and genograms. Nottingham: NCSCB/NSCB, 2014. (accessed 1 Aug 2017).

Rogers, J. (2019). The British Journal of Social Work, Volume 49, Issue 7, October 2019, Pages 2007–2008,

Starkey P.J. (1981). Genograms: A guide to understanding one’s own family system.

Perspectives in Psychiatric Care.

Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families. Genograms and ecomaps: tools for developing a broad view of family. Available from

Wilson D. & Ratekin C. (1990). An introduction to using children’s drawings as an assessment tool. Nurse Practitioner. 1990; 15: 23-25

Leave a Comment