Using genograms as a research method to discuss intergenerational processes in families of Holocaust survivors: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

  • Nicholas Lewis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Mass traumas such as the Holocaust not only impact survivors, but also subsequent generations who were not exposed to the trauma directly. Although intergenerational processes have been investigated from a range of perspectives, few have looked at the idiographic experiences of underlying intergenerational processes. Genograms are a therapeutic tool regularly used in psychological interventions, however their use as a visual research method in qualitative research is emerging. Whilst genograms have been found to be helpful in exploring intergenerational phenomena, few studies have sought to investigate participants’ experiences of the methodology.
This study seeks to understand how children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors experience the use of genograms as a visual research method to discuss intergenerational processes. Seven participants were asked to reflect on their experiences of a genogram interview in an online semi-structured interview. The semi-structured interviews were transcribed and analysed through Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).
Five group experiential themes (GETs) with several sub-themes were identified. “The legacy of prior experiences” depicts the influential experiences that participants brought to the genogram interview, influencing the way they were able to engage with the process. “Scaffolding sensitive and nuanced discussions” demonstrates how material and relational aspects of the genogram interview helped to foster greater safety whilst situating participants at the heart of the discussion. “The importance of telling our stories” portrays the prominence participants placed on telling rich and unedited stories steeped in beauty and strength. “The impact of sharing stories” shows how participants felt a sense of vulnerability whilst revealing threads that ran through the generations. Some also felt empowered by connecting with their heritage. Lastly, the “Reverberations of storytelling” demonstrates the psychological impact of the genogram interview, with participants situating the experience in a broader journey of discovery.
This study modestly contributes to the qualitative paradigm by representing participants’ experience of genograms as a visual research method. Genograms can elicit rich and contextualised data on family structure, relational characteristics, parenting styles, communication styles, myths, scripts, identity, and narratives of strength and resilience. Whilst the method appears to be both an acceptable and useful method in research on sensitive intergenerational phenomena in an ethnically minoritised group, important ethical considerations were identified. Future research might consider the use of narrative analysis
when investigating intergenerational processes in families of Holocaust survivors with genograms. Furthermore, researchers might look to investigate the use of genograms with other ethnically minoritised groups recovering from the effects of genocide.
Date of Award3 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorAsh Summers (Supervisor) & Yasmine Dunn (Supervisor)

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