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Genogram Definition, History and Types

Written by: Tobi Ojenike

Feb 08, 2024

genogram definition, history, and types

When King Charles was crowned last year, the guest list was extensive. Besides dignitaries and friends, there were hundreds of close and extended family in attendance.

It showed how family relationships are a complex web. Don’t believe me? Why not visualize your own family lineage with a family tree or better yet, genogram?

Genograms are an in-depth version of the traditional family tree. They go beyond basic details and reveal how a person’s family influences each other. 

In this post, I’ll define genograms, talk about their history, use cases, and how you can use a Genogram Maker or genogram templates to create your own online without having to learn specialized software. 


Defining genograms

Genograms are a visual tool that help us understand family relationship dynamics.

But don’t confuse them for family trees which list names and birth years of family members. Genograms go much more in-depth.

Genograms cleverly use symbols and lines to show how people in a family are biologically or legally connected and their emotional and relational ties as well.

Genograms can be used to map relationships, mental health history, physical health history, substance abuse history and much more. 

Here’s an example of a genogram. It shows which family member(s) are at risk of diabetes by tracing prevalence over several generations.

Genogram Template for Health History

The history of genograms

Genograms were first developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen in the 1970s as a therapeutic tool to help people understand family patterns over several generations. 

His inspiration? The Bowenian Family Therapy system which he developed in the 50s and 60s. 

Bowenian Family Therapy system

The Family System Theory (Bowen, 1975)

Bowen’s Family Therapy viewed families as a unit and focused on the family process or how each member’s actions affect the entire family.

While helpful, most people were not aware of a genogram’s practical applications. 

But that changed when Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson published “Genograms: Assessment and Intervention” in 1985 which showed how genograms could aid in family therapy. 

Since then, genograms have evolved and today they’re used in applications like: 

  • Medicine
  • Education
  • Career development 

Modern genograms have also become inclusive and allow you to represent nonbinary identities whereas early genograms operated under heteronormative assumptions of couples being only a man and woman.

5 use cases of genograms

Not sure if you need a genogram? Here are five scenarios where a genogram makes sense.

1. Personal growth

Genograms are great tools for self-discovery and personal growth. 

By creating a genogram, you can gain insights about your family’s ethnic background and/or behaviors or trends that repeat throughout generations. 

With this knowledge, you can break negative cycles, improve relationships, and make better decisions about your life direction.

Ancestry and Heritage Genogram

2. Family therapy

Genograms cover all aspects of family dynamics, including sensitive issues such as which (if any) family member had substance abuse issues, suffered from grooming and sexual abuse, or psychological factors like depression. 

By mapping out family patterns over generations, it becomes easier to spot the root cause(s) of behaviors and address them.

Genograms also reveal emotional relationships which can help psychiatrists optimize therapy. 

Therapy Genogram

Another less known application of genograms in family therapy comes in the form of family play genograms.

This innovative approach requires genograms to be built in an interactive format where each family member contributes their own information.

3. Medical analysis

Genograms are often used to study medical history by tracing patterns of illness and assessing risk factors for certain diseases.

They’re also often used by healthcare providers to make informed decisions regarding patient care, prevention strategies, and genetic counseling.

Family Medical History Genogram

4. Career counseling

Educators and career counselors can use genograms to explore students’ family background to better guide them. 

This works because understanding a student’s cultural background, socioeconomic status, and past careers in their family helps optimize advice.

Educational Achievements Genogram

5. Social work

Social workers use genograms to collect information which can help them resolve cases of child welfare, adoption, and foster care placements. 

How? Genograms allow them to assess each family’s strengths and make it easier to decide which family is most fit to provide the best environment. 

Adoption and Blended Families Genogram

3 popular types of genograms

Families represented in genograms can take several forms. Here are the most common types of genograms that you need to know about.

1. Family genograms 

A family genogram is the simplest genogram type you can create. It shows a complete structure of a family (at least three generations), including members like aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

These genograms are handy when you want to find out your heritage or just learn more about your ancestors. 

3 Generation Genogram

2. Medical genograms

Medical genograms are by far the most popular genogram type. They’re great tools to track diseases within a family. 

Medical genograms are a bit more complicated than normal genograms as they require additional shapes and lines to visually communicate information. 

Medical Genogram

3. Social genograms 

In the field of social work, genograms help professionals understand family dynamics and how it may influence someone’s mental health or social functioning.

This knowledge in turn helps social workers design targeted interventions and/or make referrals to other services such as family therapy if needed.

Here’s an example of a social work genogram that helps map the strength of a family’s social bonds.

Social Work Genogram Template

Related: 10+ Genogram Examples (and How to Create Them).

How to make genograms in Venngage

Creating a genogram is time-consuming and most genogram software are not easy to use.

But that’s not the case with Venngage which offers professionally-designed genograms you can customize in a few clicks without any design skills necessary.

All you need to do is select a genogram template and input your information.

You can also use our Genogram Maker which allows you to build by dragging and dropping elements.

Step 1 – Log in or sign up for Venngage (it’s free!)

Log into your Venngage account or create a new account if you don’t already have one. It’s FREE to create an account and you’ll get access to our tools and access to in-editor library of icons and images.

Log in or sign up for Venngage

Step 2 – Go to the “Templates” page and select “Diagrams”

Venngage offers several genogram templates, from medical genograms to family genograms. 

To find them, go to our templates page and select the “Diagram” category from the left menu. You should see a screen like this. 

Note: Some of our genogram templates are free to use and some require a small monthly fee. Sign-up is always free, as is access to Venngage’s online drag-and-drop editor.

diagram templates

Step 3 – Select the “Genogram” subcategory 

When you select “Diagrams”, a new page should load showing several subcategories of diagrams you can create. 

Make sure to pick the “Genogram” subcategory. 

Genogram Diagrams Templates

Step 4 – Customize your genogram 

Once you select a template, an editor window should open where you can edit it. 

With Venngage, it’s easy to customize a genogram. Here are just a few things you can do in a few clicks.

  • Add your own symbols 
  • Change colors
  • Change the fonts and text to match your brand or style
  • Move elements around with a drag and drop interface

For example, let’s say this was your original genogram in which grandpa and grandpa divorced.

editing genogram template in venngage

But let’s pretend they hadn’t. In Venngage, you can change their status by deleting the “divorced” marker, insert the marriage, and drag it into place.

edited genogram template in venngage

If you sign up for a Business plan, you’ll also get access to My Brand Kit. This allows you to apply brand colors or any saved color scheme to any template with one click.

Step 5 – Save, share, or download your genogram 

Once you’ve finished editing your genogram, you can save it as a PDF or PNG file if you’re on a Business plan.  However, you can always share a link to your genogram for free. 

You can also save it to your Venngage account, so you can pick it up again in the future to update. 

genogram download venngage

3 examples of genograms

Ready to create your own genogram? Let’s look at some Venngage templates you can customize.  

Cultural genogram 

In this genogram, a person can trace the different faiths practiced or followed by family members. 

Cultural and Religious Influences Genogram

Health genogram

This genogram shows what psychological traits may be passed down to descendants. 

Psychological Health and Traits Genogram

Family genogram

In this genogram, a person can track the influence of different cultures and nationalities on their family. 

Multicultural Genogram Template

For more examples, read: 10+ Genogram Examples (and How to Create Them)

Conclusion: Create insightful genograms fast with our professional templates or easy-to-use editor 

If you’re excited by the prospect of learning about your family but put off by the design aspect, fear no more! 

Head over to Venngage’s genogram templates and be the detective you’ve always wanted to be. Customize your genogram and watch the pieces of your own puzzle click into place. 


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a genogram in family therapy?

Genograms are used in family therapy to identify patterns in family history of psychological issues, medical conditions, and social interactions to identify recurring patterns that may influence an individual’s current psychological state and relationships.

What is the difference between a family tree and a genogram?

A family tree and a genogram are both visual representations of family relationships, but they differ in the type of information conveyed. A family tree primarily focuses on lineage and ancestry by tracing biological and legal relationships among family members across generations whereas a genogram provides a comprehensive view of the family’s emotional, social, and health-related interactions in addition to biological and legal relationships.

Why is a genogram important?

A genogram is important for the following reasons: 1) provide better understanding of family dynamics, 2) reveal behavioral, social, and health-related patterns and trends, 3) aid in medical and psychological assessment, 4) facilitate communication and therapy, and 5) support genetic research.