Family of Origin Paper


Purpose of this assignment: This assignment has become a ‘classic’ assignment in the USC School of Social Work program. In order for you to help your clients and their familial patterns, you need to have done this work on a personal level as well. By understanding your family and who you are within this family context you are able to identify counter-transference reactions with your clients which is an ethical responsibility of social work practice. Many social workers believe, “you cannot bring a client further than you have brought yourself”. By exploring and reflecting on our own experiences, including factors of resilience and risk, this assignment will highlight ways in which we can be more empathetic towards ourselves and others.


This assignment is not a replacement for personal psychotherapy, but may offer some insights into who you are, and how you can help your clients live more fulfilling lives.


General instructions: This assignment requires you to apply the concepts and theories discussed in SOWK 544 to your family of origin. In order to complete this assignment you will need to conduct at least two interviews of family members. You may interview parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Please discuss confidentiality with your interviewees, get permission to use the interview material, and offer to change names if they so desire.


Instructions for paper:

Section one: (One page) Produce a detailed genogram of your family of origin covering at least three generations.  Please include names and ages. The genogram must include a key.


Section two: (2-3 pages) Conduct a systemic analysis of your family of origin from a structural and systems perspective.  Issues you may cover include (choose 2-4 of these)


  1. boundaries (within the family as well as between the family and the world)
  2. hierarchies
  3. subsystems
  4. alliances
  5. rules (spoken and unspoken)
  6. feedback loops
  7. adaptability
  8. cohesion
  9. power
  10. attachment styles
  11. family myths
  12. significant losses
  13. communication style and patterns
  14. inclusion
  15. intimacy
  16. resources
  17. social networks
  18. intergenerational patterns
  19. environmental actors



You must give specific behavioral examples to back up your analysis. For example, it is not sufficient to state that there were strong intergenerational boundaries, rather, you should discuss the specific behaviors that demonstrated that those boundaries existed. (The Hepworth article is an important guide for this section).

In completing this section you will need to cite at least three scholarly articles and/or books (from outside of this syllabus) that address the concepts you are discussing. You will also need to give specific behavioral examples to illustrate your concept as it plays out in your family of origin.


Section three: (2 -3 pages) Select an underlying theme that emerged from the analysis of your family which has influenced your empathy towards others.  Research this theme and discuss how it impacts families in general and specifically impacted your family. You may create your own theme or select from the following list:

  1. The effects of alcoholism or addiction on the family.
  2. Gay and lesbian families.
  3. Blended family issues.
  4. Single-parent family.
  5. The effects of violence or abuse.
  6. Poverty and the family.
  7. Family secrets.
  8. Legacies of loss.
  9. The role of ritual in the family.
  10. Birth order.
  11. Cultural themes.
  12. The effects of mental or physical illness on the family.
  13. Gender roles within the family.
  14. Family stories and the construction of meaning.
  15. Models of marriage.
  16. Enmeshment and disengagement.
  17. Emotional milieu within the family.


In completing this section you will need to cite at least three scholarly articles and/or books that address the theme you are discussing. You will also need to give specific behavioral examples to illustrate your theme as it plays out in your family of origin.



Section 4: (1-2 pages) For this section, we are asking you to step outside of the family system so that you can discuss areas which may influence your clinical work with a family like the one you presented.  Based on the structural and/or systems issues you have identified, along with the theme, how might working with the family you presented in your paper influence your: (1) empathy (i.e. lend to expressing an “appropriate” level of empathy, make me less empathetic, or make me feel over-identified and over empathetic),  (2) countertransference (i.e what about a family such as this one be a trigger for me or over-identify), and (3) what are the implications for of these two factors on engagement, assessment, and treatment planning based on the family characteristics and needs.

Papers should be 6 to 9 pages in length, typed, and double spaced, APA 6th Edition, 12 point Times New Roman Font, 1” margins. Papers should be written in the 3rd person (unless otherwise stated by the instructor). Papers will be evaluated on the thoroughness of the assignment, the theoretical justification of content, integration of empirical evidenced-based content, and the quality of the written work. Late papers will be penalized (1-points off for every 24-hour period late).