Ecomap vs Genogram: Similarities, Differences, & More

Both ecomap and genogram provide a visual illustration of a family’s dynamics. In this detailed guide, we will explore the similarities and differences between these two and how EdrawMind lets you create both ecomap and genograms with free templates.

what is ecomap and genogram

In order to understand the intricacies of human relationships and different family dynamics, we often create ecomap and genograms. These visual representations help us understand the complex web of connections within a family system that are mapped out by including different external influences, like medical conditions, friendships, community resources, cultural traditions, and more.

As you will learn in this ecomap and genogram guide, visual representation offers a tangible way to understand complex relationships. It not only promotes self-reflection but also facilitates a much deeper understanding of the various influences that shape our overall experiences. It won’t be wrong here to say that ecomap and genogram are often considered instrumental in the overall therapeutic process.

That being said, many professionals often make mistakes between ecomap and genogram. However, these two are different tools that are used to visually represent an individual and family. In this detailed guide, we will walk you through the major similarities and differences between ecomap and genogram.

In this article
  1. What is Ecomap
  2. What is Genogram
  3. Key Differences Between Ecomap and Genogram
  4. Similarities Between Ecomap and Genogram

What is Ecomap

Ecological Map, or simply an ecomap, is a visual representation tool that was first coined by Dr. Ann Hartman in the late 1970s. Dr. Hartman started using the ecomap to illustrate the dynamic relationship between different individuals and their families with their social environment. He took the concept of ecomap from the ecological system theory, where he emphasized the interconnectedness between individuals and their respective contexts.

1. Components of Ecomap

Just like any family tree diagram, ecomap also has some significant components that help in creating and identifying different aspects of an individual. These components are:

  • Family Members:
  • At the core of any ecomap, we have the family members themselves. Each of these family members is generally represented by universally accepted symbols. We add different connections between these family members to illustrate the nature of their relationship.

  • Relationship:
  • Just like genograms, ecomaps also include lines and symbols that help in understanding different relationships within the family. In some complex ecomaps, these lines and symbols encompass different dynamics, conflicts, and supportive connections.

  • External System & Institutions:
  • What sets an ecomap from the genogram and family tree is how external systems and different institutions influence the family’s dynamics. Some of the most dominant external systems may involve healthcare providers, community resources, schools, and more. As you can see, all of these institutes play an important role in shaping a family’s overall experience.

2. Application in Social Work

When it comes to understanding the social aspect of such ecological maps, ecomaps have proven to be a very important tool.

  • Assessing Family Dynamics
  • For social workers who wish to understand the complex dynamics within a family, they can always create ecomaps. By visually mapping relationships and external influences, social workers can gain significant insights into the family’s strengths and important areas of intervention.

  • Identifying Support Systems
  • With the help of ecomaps, one can identify the support systems available to a family. While creating an ecomap, social workers can include extended family members, friends, and other community resources that have a significant influence on the family’s support system.

    If you plan to create an ecomap, you can always check out the built-in templates from EdrawMind. As you can see here, this ecomap software lets you fully customize the data and make different connections between the family members.

what is ecomap

What is Genogram

Similarly to a family tree and ecomap, a genogram is also a graphic illustration of a family’s structure that extends by including the relationship and medical history spread over multiple generations. Murray Bowen from Georgetown University is considered the first person who developed the use of genograms to treat his patients. Bowen introduced genograms during his family therapy meetings that allowed him to explore intergenerational influences on a family’s behavior and overall health.

1. Elements of a Genogram

Some of the important elements of genograms are:

  • Family Structure:
  • As the name suggests, family structure illustrates the composition of generations that includes the maternal/paternal grandparents, parents, children, and siblings. In some extensive cases, we even add uncles and aunts to better understand the hierarchy and connections within the family.

  • Family Relationship:
  • While making genograms, we use different lines (straight/dashed/curled/criss-crossed) to indicate the nature of the connections and potential conflicts between different family members. By clearly identifying the lines and symbols, practitioners can easily analyze the communication patterns between families.

  • Historical Aspects:
  • The core concept of genograms starts by mentioning historical facts, like traditional influence, health conditions in the family, and such. This information aids in identifying any underlying risks of any potential factor that might disturb the family’s dynamics.

2. Clinical Applications

Genograms help in identifying the key roles between genetics and environmental factors, making them a great tool when it comes to medicine.

  • Tracing Behavioral Patterns
  • With genograms, one can easily trace behavior patterns and relational dynamics. By properly visualizing these patterns, doctors and therapists can identify any recurring themes that may influence the individual’s overall social behavior.

  • Identifying Health Risks
  • When making genograms, it is recommended to add the health history of every individual, which makes such visual illustrations a crucial instrument in identifying any potential health risks.

    When dealing with simple or even complex genograms, you can always check out the user-generated templates provided by EdrawMind. With ease of customization and real-time collaboration, healthcare professionals or individuals can create genograms.

what is genogram

Key Differences Between Ecomap and Genogram

From a glance, ecomap and genogram look almost similar as they try to cover more or less similar aspects. However, there are several important differences between them, like:

Purpose & Focus Ecomaps are designed to emphasize the external relationships and influences that swirl around a family. Genograms are centered on the internal dynamics of a family.
Ecomaps offer a comprehensive view of the social environment, which includes institutes, community organizations, and relationships with friends. Genograms' primary focus lies on family structures, health histories, and familial relationships.
Components & Symbols Ecomaps utilize symbols to represent family members, external systems, and relationships. Genograms use specific symbols to represent family, like circles for females and squares for males.
Ecomaps use lines to illustrate the nature of the connections. Genogram uses lines to denote different types of relationships.
Usage Ecomaps are generally used in social work settings where the primary objective is to understand the external systems that influence the family members. Genograms are extensively used in family therapy and healthcare settings.
Ecomaps let one assess the strengths and challenges one faces in a social context. Genograms provide a visual tool for healthcare professionals to explore intergenerational patterns and family history.
Example A social worker will use ecomap to understand the support system available to a teenager who is struggling with his marks. A family therapist will use a genogram to explore the origin of recurring behaviors.
A social worker will make an ecomap and include the teenager, family members, and teachers. The genogram will include family members, their relationships, and relevant health history.
In the ecomap, the social worker will have lines to connect all of the entities that depict the nature of their relationship. In the genogram, the therapist will identify a pattern across generations to find the pattern that influences the current family dynamics.

Similarities Between Ecomap and Genogram

Ecomap and genogram are similar on several grounds, like:

Visual Representation

  • Ecomap and genogram are both visual illustrating tools. Both of them leverage the power of symbols, lines, and other important visual elements to convey important information about families and relationships.

Family Assessment Tools

  • Ecomap and genogramare considered valuable family assessment tools.
  • While creating both ecomap and genogram, practitioners gather and organize information about individuals and families. Whether one is exploring external dynamics or internal influences, these tools facilitate a structured approach to family assessment.

Contribution to Holistic Understanding

  • Both ecomap and genogram offer insights about a family. Ecomaps help us recognize external influences. At the same time, the genograms delve into the multigenerational aspects of a family.
  • Together, ecomap and genogramoffer a comprehensive view that considers both external and internal factors that shape an individual’s experiences.

Practical Applications

In different scenarios, social workers and therapists often go ahead and create both the ecomap and genograms to get a more comprehensive understanding of individuals and families. Let us explore one case study that encompasses both ecomap and genogram.

Case Study: The Mahajan Family

The Mahajan family sought assistance due to the recurring conflicts among the cousins and communication breakdowns. In this case:

  • A social worker would come and create an extensive ecomap in order to understand different external factors that might be causing a rift between the siblings. They can understand how their different schooling and friends have a serious connection with their behavior.
  • At the same time, a therapist will provide insights into intergenerational communication patterns and the history of sibling relationships.

This way, the Mahajan Family can understand what are the internal and ecological influences that are causing the rift between the siblings and how they can improve their communication.

Some of the benefits of combining both ecomap and genograms are:

  • Comprehensive Understanding: By combining both external and internal influences, medical practitioners can achieve a more comprehensive or detailed view of the factors that influence an individual.
  • Targeted Interventions: When using both ecomap and genograms, one gets a tailored intervention that addresses the being from all fronts, leading to a more effective and targeted support system.

A few examples of successful family communication are:

  • Academic Success and Family Communication:
  • Most families put a lot of pressure on academic results. In such cases, a social worker can create an ecomap and genogram to identify the external stressor and how the communication pattern within the family may contribute to the student’s struggles.

  • Substance Abuse and Family History:
  • If someone in the family is suffering from substance abuse, social workers and therapists can conduct intervention by creating ecomap and genograms. This way, they can identify the external factors like community influence or family’s internal dynamics that started the substance abuse in the first place. This way, they can easily rectify the problem before it escalates.


The use of ecomap and genogram depends on what exactly we want to identify. Even though there are several differences between them, they both provide a holistic approach to finding the right approach to find solutions. These tools share common grounds when it comes to visual representation, and by integrating ecomap and genogram, one can acknowledge and harness the unique strengths to navigate the intricate relationships. When you plan to create an ecomap and genogram, try using EdrawMind. With this genogram software, you can create both ecomap and genogram in one canvas and can also find relevant connections between the two. EdrawMind is equipped with free templates that help in creating ecomap and genograms with ease.

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David Miller
David Miller May 21, 24
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