Family relationships are never simple and straightforward; it is wrought with interpersonal dynamics, communication patterns, parenting styles, child’s temperament, emotional expression, socialization, religion, cultural traditions and more (Gehart & Tuttle, 2003). Nevertheless, the family exists as the source of love and trust, children look up to their parents for affection, unconditional love, guidance, and respect. Parents on the other hand have the responsibility to provide for the psychological, emotional, social, and cognitive needs of their children. In fact most studies have revealed that parents are the single most important factor in a child’s life, the quality of a child’s family environment and structure greatly influences his/her personality and chances of succeeding in life.
The case of Susan and Tom depicts how fragile family relationships are and whenever one member of the family experiences problems, the whole family is affected. After conducting the genogram interview with Susan and Tom, it is noted that pertinent themes abound in their lives that had been influenced by their own individual pasts. One of the common themes that Susan and Tom share is how they react and cope with family problems. Susan and Tom both tolerate sensitive issues in their past and their present family relationships. Tom had tolerated and accepted his mother’s sexual preference while Susan had tolerated and overcome the pain of her father’s infidelity. At present, they are both seeking out help in order to resolve their own family problems and that is the pain and confusion that their son experienced because of Tom’s cross-dressing.
This indicates that Susan and Tom confront issues and problems by ignoring its cause or reason, then accepting it as it is, and finding ways to get past it. Another theme that surfaced is how Susan and Tom had issues with father figures, Susan had been hurt and confused by her father’s infidelity, while Tom had never had a father figure in the home and since his mother took on the role of father, he became confused as to what a father should be. It can even be said that his cross-dressing is a manifestation of his confusion to being a father, since the father he knew dressed as a woman.
The risk factors that Susan and Tom are facing at the moment are how to regain the trust and respect of their son. It is one thing to seek help in order to resolve the issue of cross-dressing between Susan and Tom; it is another thing for their son to understand that Tom has a psychological issue with women’s clothing and that it does not mean that his father loves him less or an indication of homosexuality. Susan and Tom may be helped in counseling but they have to involve their children and instead of marital counseling, they should think about family therapy. In addition, Susan may be blamed by her son in this situation for allowing his father to cross-dress. This would possibly lead to the detachment of the son from the family. The son’s confusion, pain, and turmoil may cause him to engage in risky behavior, acting out in school or depression which must also be given attention by the parents.
Susan and Tom as a couple had a good relationship, they maybe motivated to keep the family together and make the marriage work by a myriad of reasons, but it is evident that they do love and are committed to each other. This is one of the strengths of the couple and by acknowledging their issues and finding ways to overcome it and getting professional help indicates that they both are willing to work for the betterment of their family and marriage. The couple is also open to the counseling process; they are cooperative and willing to put effort and time for counseling.
The genogram is a unique tool that offers the counselor a detailed map of the family relations of the couple or the individual in therapy. One of its strengths includes its ability to recreate the dominant family themes in the individual’s life that have influenced the present or current situation or difficulties of the individual (McGoldrick, Gerson & Petry, 2008). In the genogram interview, the client can retell the story of his/her life and by doing so, he/she would be able to verbalize, think, and confront the issues in his/her past. This would also give the counselor the opportunity to listen, analyze the personal issues of the client, and identify the issues that needed to be addressed at the moment or where to start. The client’s family life both the present and the family of origin provide the context of the difficulties that the client is experiencing and his would help the counselor determine if it is caused by family patterns, cultural traditions, religious beliefs and the like. As a treatment-planning tool, the genogram is effective since its objective is to progress from the most basic and simple questions to the more anxiety provoking ones, such that the therapist would know where to start and where to end the genogram (McGoldrick, Gerson & Petry, 2008). Although, there is no fixed set of questions and period since the follow-up questions will always depend on the responses of the client.
The genogram however is not without its limitations; one is its lack of structure. Although it has its goals, the dependence on client responses greatly varies the period of counseling, it does not give the client a clear idea of when, and how will counseling help him/her, thus solution-oriented genogram had been proposed (Kuehl, 1995). Secondly, the genogram only works with clients who have simple family systems, a family of origin and the immediate family, but a genogram would be very difficult to do on second marriages, foster families, blended families, and those with same-sex parents since the client would not have a clear idea of the family histories that they belong to and creating the genogram would not be that useful (Gehart & Tuttle, 2003).
Gehart, D. & Tuttle, A. (2003). Theory-based treatment planning for marriage and family
therapists. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole
Kuehl, B. (1995). The solution-oriented genogram: A collaborative approach. Journal of Marital
and Family Therapy, 21, 239-250
McGoldrick, M., Gerson, R., & Petry, S. (2008). Genograms: Assessment and intervention
(3rd Ed.). New York: Norton.