Using Career Genograms in K-12 Settings

By Donna Gibson

One of the challenges in providing career counseling services in K-12 settings is finding useful, inexpensive tools that are developmentally appropriate for the students being served. School counselors and career counselors in the schools also have the added challenge of providing career counseling that meets the standards of the comprehensive developmental guidance model proposed by Gysbers and Henderson (2006). These standards are designed to meet the developmental needs of students in elementary, middle, and high school settings. A flexible tool that meets the needs of these career counseling challenges and is developmental in nature is a career genogram.


Using Genograms in Elementary, Middle, and High School Settings

The career counseling goals outlined in the comprehensive developmental guidance program (Gsybers & Henderson, 2006) are specific to the development of the students at each of these levels. Therefore, the use of the career genogram has to be tailored to fit those developmental levels. In addition to meeting the needs of the students, career genograms provide a method for the counselor to integrate the student's family into the career assessment process by examining and discussing the career pattern's in the student's family in a nonthreatening manner.

At the elementary school level, school and career counselors have the additional challenge of utilizing techniques that are attractive and fun for the student. Instead of using the traditional genogram format, counselors could use a career family tree. The graphic representation of the tree and the ability to draw, color and decorate the tree is appealing at the elementary school level. To keep the exercise simple, only three generations of family careers (i.e., student, student's parents, and student's grandparents) are represented and discussed. Information provided on the career family tree can include the actual job titles and interests of the individuals listed on the tree. This information can lead to discussions about the types of jobs and hobbies that family members engage and meets the comprehensive developmental guidance program career goal for elementary school students to gain career awareness (2006).

At the middle school level, the main career goal is to be more active in their own career exploration by finding and understanding information about themselves and the world of work. School and career counselors can help middle school students to expand on the career family trees they created in elementary school or the traditional genogram format can be utilized to help students in this exploration process. Students should not only be asked to write down the careers and interests of the family members on the genogram, but should be encouraged to ask these family members "why" they chose their educational and career paths, "what" factors influenced their decisions, "who" influenced their decisions, and "when" they made those decisions. Counselors can help students utilize Internet websites to explore career and education alternatives that are presented in the genogram. In addition, counselors should encourage students and families to explore this information together as planning for post-secondary school becomes more imminent.

Finally, high school career counseling is the convergence of awareness and exploration activities that have been fostered during a student's elementary and middle school education. Although there may be less time available to work directly with high school students, career genograms can be integrated into the regular curriculum. High school teachers and counselors can collaborate on how using career genogram information can be used in other assignments. English and history classes may be the perfect opportunity to explore family histories through the information gathered in the career genograms. For high school students, the career genogram should be utilized to help the student examine themes or patterns of specific motivational factors within the family for making decisions about career and education. These factors may be playing a central part in influencing the student's own decision-making in regards to their future career and education.
Sample Genogram
An example was created to demonstrate the look of a Career Family Tree (pdf 337 kb)

Limitations and Recommendations

Although using a genogram provides counselors a flexible and inexpensive tool to use in career counseling with K-12 students and their families, it is also a tool that has some limitations. One of these limitations is the amount of time it takes to create and process the genogram. Time is at a premium in most schools but also varies across settings. However, the advantage of the genogram is its flexibility in using it with students. Counselors can present it as an assignment that needs to be completed at home and discussed in either small or large group settings which makes the most use of the student's time at school and home. A second limitation is using the career genogram with children of blended families, same-sex families, foster families, and adopted families. It is recommended that these students be encouraged to create a career genogram but also allow the option for the student and/or family to process it on an individual basis with the counselor instead of a group setting if they prefer. Finally, counselors need to remember that it is their job to process the career genogram and not rely on teachers to do this with students nor rely solely on the self-report of student information without discussion of the genogram. Counselors use of the career genogram is to help students in their career development but also to help facilitate communication between students and their families about careers, motivational factors, values, and interests.


Gibson, D.M. (2005). The use of genograms in career counseling with elementary, middle, and high school students. The Career Development Quarterly, 53, 353-362.

Gysbers, N., & Henderson, P. (2006). Developing and managing your school guidance program (4th ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Dr. Donna M. Gibson is an assistant professor of counselor education in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of South Carolina. She is currently serving as President of the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education, a division of the American Counseling Association. All inquiries to this article can be sent to gibsond@gwm.sc.edu.

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