“All in the Family”

Posted on January 6, 2012 by

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Consider yourself not just the run-of-the-mill linear thinker? Maybe even dabbled in learning to read some Asian languages? Well–ever seen anything like this before?:

(see Mary Daly et al’s “Exploring Family Relationships in Cancer Risk Counseling Using the Genogram” for this example)

My guess is, unless you’re a family systems therapist, this just might be something unfamiliar to you, especially in its chicken-scratch quality. It’s a genogram, or graphic representation of a family tree that emphasizes relationships and patterns among individuals in a family, often going back several generations. It is utilized by those, like me, trained in family systems therapy.

The family systems approach differs from the classic psychoanalytic emphasis on the individual. Instead, it views people as acting within in a system where they react in a feedback loop. Introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen, the theory postulates that the individual must be understood, not in isolation, but as part of an interconnected and interdependent system of the family. In essence, the family is the patient.

Think you could tentatively buy into such an idea? Read on to see how a systems approach might relate to your most common family interactions.