The Significance of the Family Diagram

The family diagram, developed by Murray Bowen, symbolizes a living organism, the multigenerational family emotional system. More than any other symbol, the diagram announces the necessity to shift paradigms, to move beyond an individual cause-and-effect model to a multiperson systems model in understanding human behavior. The diagram represents much more than genealogy; it represents the profound emotional connections between the generations. People are born and die, but a family’s past lives in the present.

Diagrams are read chronologically from left to right: the oldest child in a family appears furthest to the left. Males are represented by squares, females by circles. When information about people’s lives is collected, added to the basic diagram, and thought about, one’s own life takes on a new understanding and meaning.

A very good explanation of the family diagram can be found in Chapter 10 of Family Evaluation, by Drs. Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen.