Part 1My Family Genogram
Given the complexity of family counseling and attending to the multitude of ecosystemic factors or the interactions between the individual or family and larger social contexts, counselors may struggle to conduct comprehensive assessments and interventions with their clients. Genograms have long been used to clarify complex family and psychological patterns through visual representations, and are, therefore, a promising tool to meet this need (Goodman, 2013, p.386).
Prior to taking on the role of a counselor, it is important for us to grow as individuals, understand and embrace our own strengths and weaknesses. Section C of the American Counselors Associations Code of Ethics introduction states, Counselors engage in self-care activities to maintain and promote their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to best meet their professional responsibilities (American Counseling Association, 2014). A genogram includes information about medical information, relationships and interactions between family members, while a family tree only depicts lineage. A genogram may establish significant family patterns. Delving into ones own genogram history may, answer questions regarding ones inter- or intragenerational problems, genetic issues, environment-based patterns or recurring emotional stressors, thereby assisting a counselor to not apply personal baggage into sessions with clients.
Looking at my family genogram, patterns begin to emerge on my maternal and paternal side. First, my father was born and raised in Memphis, TN. His family was small and included my grandparents and his older brother. My grandmother, who I am named after, passed away
from cancer in 1963. Upon the death of my grandmother, evidence emerged that my grandfather had been unfaithful during her illness and had another wife and family. At that point and time, my father became estranged from his father. The situation was never discussed with my two brothers and I. We were an Air Force family stationed around the country, which made it convenient for my father to maintain his distance and keep us detached without any explanation. Emotionally, my father, who passed away January 18, 2015, was unemotional, hardworking and extremely protective of his family. Not until I was in my late teens, did I know the details of my fathers side of the family, when I met my aunt, his sister, who is 10 months older than me. I believe the life changing event in my fathers life, of discovering another woman and half siblings, changed him deeply, as he was very close to his mother. I hurt for my father and became angry at my grandfather, who I had only spoken to on the phone. Although there We were extremely close to our maternal side of our parents, and not until my grandfathers passing in 1989, did my brothers and I truly comprehend the depth of our fathers emotional pain. My grandfather had four other children with his second wife Harriett, three boys and one girl. The girl Mia was the only one who was never imprisoned. For the three boys, prison doors were a turnstile, with eventually one of them ending up dead. As I become older and more inquisitive, I would ask my father questions and depending on his mood, he would open up. In a rare moment, he explained that he did not want his children raised in a vile environment, and wanted better for us, educationally, spiritually and familial. Murray Bowen My fathers poor relationship with his father and apathy towards the stepmother, was not projected onto us in anger or hate, but by the relationships being non-existent. In regard to the half-siblings, they too were non-existent. We were kept ignorant, one I believe to protect us, but too because he never dealt with the again,
dismay or pain. As my father aged and began to open up, the common health problems on my fathers side emerged: His father, mother and brother all passed from cancer. My father was avid smoker but stopped smoking approximately 20 years before his death. My father did not pass from cancer, but from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Occupationally, my father worked from the age of 12, and entered the Air Force at 18, as did his brother. Entering into the military was a way for struggling young black Americans in the 1950s to secure a future when college was not an option because of economics. Jobs on my fathers side are mainly blue collar and service oriented. There are no college degrees in my fathers immediate family. Religiously, my grandparents were Methodist, but sent my father and uncle to a private Catholic School from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, to have them in a safer environment and in a more structured and cohesive educational setting than the public schools in Memphis, TN at the time. I believe that during his time in the United States Air Force, my father developed a strong differentiation of self that enabled him to not become a part of the dysfunctionality that was happening in his familial environment. It allowed him to separate himself, his wife and children in a non-anxious way (Gladding, 2015).
The maternal side of my family is relatively different from my paternal family. My mother was extremely close to her parents until their passing, both died from Diabetes complications in the 1970s. My mother is the middle child, two older sisters and a younger sister and brother. All of my mothers siblings are deceased. Cancer took the lives of three of her siblings and after a long bout, Multiple Sclerosis took her baby sisters life. My 81-year-old
mother is now the matriarch and looks after my brothers and I, her grandchildren, as well as her siblings children and grandchildren.
Diabetes continues to run through the maternal side of my family: my mother, older brother and cousin deal with the sugary disease daily. Because of my aunts struggle with MS, her children were tested. Although MS is not hereditary, there is commonality with some genes. My female cousin does have shared MS genes and is tested quarterly. My Aunts three children have been encouraged to continue testing, as well as have their children tested in the future.
Unlike the paternal side of my family, the maternal side has earned several higher-level degrees and are employed in management, professional positions. On my mothers side, academic success is encouraged and supported. Community involvement and participation in school extra-curricular activities is seen as an expectation, and not an option. Religiously, my mother was raised Baptist, but prior to marrying my father, converted to Catholicism, and my brothers and I have been raised in the Catholic Church. With that being said, traditional celebrations like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Birthdays have always been filled with food, family and friends. My fathers estrangement from his own family never effected my brothers and I, because we had the maternal side of the family for every milestone in our lives. My father loved holidays: decorations, food, parties, especially with my mom and his children. We never felt an emotional cut-off because my parents went above and beyond to fill any void, we didnt even realize what we were missing.
After the passing of my grandparents, my mother continued to be extremely close to her siblings and their significant others: daily phone calls, vacations together, home visits and my
father was a part of those friendships. We grew close to our cousins and can compare those relationships to those of siblings. Holiday celebrations were rotated through family homes, and everyone was invited to school plays, football games and college graduations. No one was estranged nor were their poor or broken relationships. To date, all survivors keep in touch and visit regularly.
Part 2My Analytic Autobiography
My paternal and maternal genograms allowed me to better understand the family dynamics throughout my lifetime and prior to my existence. Our family tree is interesting as we can go back approximately 3 generations on my maternal side but only 2 on my paternal side. We have acquired information regarding on roots from logs, records and photographs shared on my mothers side, but the distance my father felt with his own father seems to pre-date their relationship. Over time we have found it extremely difficult to confirm lineage on my fathers side of the family. With that being said, the genogram lacks detailed information as well because of the estrangement, leading to believe my paternal side of the family lacked communication skills and were possibly uneducated.
I believe my fathers insecurity, even possible disappointment in his own father, fortified his resolve to be a better father to his wife and children. The recurrence of cancer in my fathers family is one medical link that is apparent. Neither sets of my grandparents, maternal or paternal, drank, nor did my father, but my brother is an alcoholic as is one cousin on my mothers side. Ironically, the same brother is homosexual, as is a cousin on my fathers side. In both instances, the personalities are very different, environments differ as well as are the family structures. But
because we lack information on the paternal side, we are limited in getting more detailed information.
A definite strength on my maternal side, is seen in the women. The women, including myself, have received degrees and all work in professional positions. Other than my parents, my mothers siblings were single or married more than once, raised children that went on to attend college, receive degrees and work as professionals.
To be more specific regarding myself, I was a happy child, until I was molested by an uncle, which was unbeknownst to my parents until I had a mental breakdown my senior year of high school and became bulimic and anorexic. After therapy, I took on a character of my father, non-disclosure, with very few people, I am able to discuss how I was violated. Unimaginably, I found myself years later with an abusive partner who berated everything about me, and I allowed it to the dismay of family and friends, as it was extremely uncharacteristic of me. After the birth of our daughter, I began to see that he was starting a cycle of abuse with my daughter, which is what ultimately gave me the strength to leave the abusive relationship. I did not want my daughter to believe that being disrespected and belittled was acceptable, and it was not how I had been raised. I had to understand his issues were larger than my love.
To look at my exes section of the Genogram Chart, Joseph Hooper Jr., it shows violence between his parents, manipulation from his mother, estrangement in several smaller family units, and ultimately hate between his younger sister and mother, which added to her struggle with depression, and sadly ended with her committing suicide in 2007. The bipolarism of my daughters father, mixed with alcohol, triggered him to make an attempt on my life. Reality is that his familys abuse towards each other, depression, devious ways, lack of education, cultural exposure and socioeconomic struggles had created a dysfunctional family, that I immediately disengaged myself and my daughter from. The manipulation continued with my daughter for several years, until the truth was irreversibly transparent. She too has now disconnected with her father and is distant from other family members.
Based on what I learned in doing the genogram, and what I know as a member of my family, I would describe my immediate family (parents, siblings) as well as my mothers family as harmonic and having close relationships. My fathers family on the other hand, I would describe as distant and indifferent from my fathers perspective. Looking at my daughters fathers family, I would describe them as conflicted, violent and having mental illness. I am extremely connected to my daughter and when she was getting ready to leave for DC to attend Georgetown University, I believed it was important to inform her of her fathers familys Life History including bouts with mental illness. (Gladding, 2015) First I informed her for her own protection, and secondly, in case she began to feel depressed, overwhelmed or anxious, I wanted her to be able to speak to me or reach out at school for help.
Salavador Minuchins family structure system, involves family subsystems, boundaries and family dynamics. In my immediate family, I would not change our structure. My parents were married for 58 years before my father passed away. My brothers and I are close and as a family unit we shared our negatives and positives. There is mutual respect and support. When there is a conflict it is addressed and ultimately it is always about what is best for the family, while helping each of us grow. Families that have an open and appropriate structure, recover more quickly and function better in the long term than families without such an arrangement (Gladding, 2015, p 299).
My family is a traditional family, followers of Catholicism and consider ourselves Black Americans. My father was raised in Tennessee and my mother in the border town of El Paso, TX. Coming from extremely different backgrounds, I believe, for us, my parents took the struggles they lived through as children and during the Civil Rights movement as a young couple stationed in Arkansas, and instilled the drive in us be good people, that education is important and to always believe in ourselves. My brothers and I to this day do not see the color of peoples skin. My daughter, my niece and nephews are all biracial. We were raised to love unconditionally, and that is what we have tried to instill in our children as well.
The family life cycle allows for multigenerational context of family connections that pattern a family of over time. The family life cycle theory, developed by Monica McGoldrick and Betty Carter, suggests that families go through changes such as life events, and a family must be able to adapt to those life changes and events to be functional.
As a family stage one single young adults leaving home, has always been difficult for us, because we are close. I remember my brothers leaving when I was a freshman in high school. I was blessed, to have very engaged parents so we did more together. My brothers visited regularly, and my parents helped them financially when they needed it and for the holidays my mom never failed to send them their favorite desserts if they could not come home. When my daughter left for Georgetown, it was difficult, but I saw my parents support us as young adults, and I will continue to support my daughter.
Stage two is the new couple. My family never fails to embrace a significant other with sincere hospitality. Even after my daughters father was abusive and had supervised visitation rights, everyone was civil in front of my daughter. As military dependents we have always been
taught to act with decorum. McGoldrick and Carters stage three is families with young children. We are love small children and make sure they are taken care of, even to extended family. Next is families with adolescents. I teach high school and have a great bond with teenagers. Families launching children and moving on, are encouraged and supported, and the last stage is families in later life are loved and catered to in my family out of hierarchy in the family and respect.
On a personal level, the loss of loved ones is the most difficult to handle. The people in my family have made such positive and profound impacts on my life, that on a daily basis I miss their wisdom and guidance, especially my father.
As a family system, including our extended family, we celebrate births, weddings and graduations together. School and college are encouraged and assistance going into the workforce is a given. Currently my mother is the only elderly member of my immediate family and I live with her. She still gets around fairly well, drives and cooks daily. Since my fathers death it has been a priority to keep her active and engaged.
Death is a normal part of life. My familys spirituality helps us through the mourning process as well as our close bond. When my father passed away, he was at home and we could tell his breath was become shallow. We informed family and friends that if they wanted to say goodbye to come by the house. We had a priest come and surrounding his bed we did the last rites as a family, extended family included, our dog laying across my fathers thin legs. A day later my father took his last breath, again with all of us in the room. My daughter and I immediately opened the doors and windows in order for his soul to ascend to heaven. My best friends came over and sat with me in my parents bedroom until the funeral home came to take
my fathers body. I am blessed. My family does not fear death, as we know we will all be together again one day.
The strength and best thing about growing up in my family is the unconditional love we have for each other. We accept each other for who we are. The challenge has been not being able to
My fear in being a family counselor is a weakness that I deal with as a high school teacher, and that is realizing that families do not love unconditionally. So many times with my students I hear of parents who are the ones causing a students set back, not a bully or foe. I have had to catch myself saying, Well my family, or my daughter. In no way shape or form are we or were we ever perfect, but we were in it together. My parents always taught us, Blood is thicker than mud. Sad to say, not everyone feels that way. As a counselor I will have to keep my personal experiences intact and make sure that I clearly identify aspects of the clients genogram and family unit that is in their best interest.
Looking at my genogram, I have noticed medical and emotional trends that are multigenerational. Being able to identify those trends will help me distinguish how these trends may affect my family currently and in generations to come. I was able to discover that my maternal side of my family is where I receive my drive and love of family from, but I believe I draw my strength from my father and respect him more now knowing that he wanted better for his family. Understanding the family dynamics is informative and will make me better in the classroom and eventually as a counselor.