The family ecomap is an instrument for quickly and synthetically visualizing the relationships that a family has with their environment and the cultural context. This helps to identify the extrafamilial network of resources. Moreover, it’s an instrument that’s easy to prepare and that offers relevant information.
One of the main contributions of the ecomap is that it recognizes the shortcomings of the family system. Furthermore, in many cases, it helps to detect conflicts that require mediation. It also specifies the resources that must be sought and mobilized and any bridges that are worth building.
There are some extra family resources that are extremely useful in the event of a family crisis. Therefore, it’s important to recognize them and create conditions that allow them to be used. The ecomap facilitates this process. It also often helps psychologists, as it may give clues about unidentified intrafamily problems.
“In social sciences and health sciences, it is often necessary to know the environment in which the patient’s family or patients live in order to find out what the origin of their problem is.”
-Nahum Montagud Rubio-
The family ecomap
The family ecomap is a psychosocial mechanism that gives an approximate, quick, and simple idea of the state of a family relationship, both within the group and its links with the outside. It helps to establish what filial and affective relationships are like between the members of the family. Moreover, it uncovers what their interrelation with other contexts and social environments is like.
The family ecomap emphasizes the identification of the significant networks to which the family belongs and how they impact on it. These networks are made up of people, groups, and institutions linked to the family.
Through this resource, each member of the family has the possibility of specifying the degree of satisfaction, closeness, and connection that they have with the group. They can also identify any existing or potential conflicts in these areas. In fact, this information makes it possible to solve any problematic situations. It can also help enrich the relationship between the family and its environment.
Preparing a family ecomap
To make a family ecomap, grab a pencil and paper. You also need to collect information from within your family and observe its internal dynamics. Then, apply the steps detailed below.
1. Preparing an ecomap
An ecomap is a graphical representation of a family. It’s a structure that shows who makes up the family and how they relate to each other. The following should be taken into account:
- Men are represented by a square and women by a circle.
- The age of each family member should be noted inside the circle or square.
- Marriage between two family members is graphed by drawing a straight line from one to the other.
- Divorce is represented by a solid line with two diagonal slashes breaking the line that unites the spouses.
- Vertical lines represent the children of the marriage. They’re presented from left to right, from eldest to youngest.
To graph the relationship between family members, the following symbols are used:
- Troubled relationship. A broken line.
- Harmonic relationship. A continuous horizontal line.
- Close relationship. Two parallel horizontal lines.
- Extremely close relationship. Three parallel horizontal lines.
- Extremely close but conflictive relationship. Three parallel horizontal lines and, above them, a broken line.
2. Additional information
On the family ecomap, you can write down important dates or events, relating to one or several members of the family. For example, deaths, the year of a divorce, significant illnesses, etc.
3. Drawing the external systems
This consists of drawing circles, taking into account that each one of them represents a person, group, institution, or space with which the family interacts. For instance, Grandpa, gardening club, school, neighborhood, etc. These circles connect with the central circle, where the nuclear family is located.
The same conventions are used as described above. Moreover, links can be made with one or more members, or with the whole family.
Obviously, the family ecomap only provides general information or an overview of the state of the family’s relations with its environment. However, this is enough to obtain a global vision of the quality of intra- and extra-familial interactions.
Furthermore, it makes it possible to establish how well the family is supported by the contexts with which it’s related. Therefore, it demonstrates in which areas work needs to be done to strengthen interrelationships and provide better support.
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