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  • Writer's pictureHolly-Marie St. Pierre

Exploring the Ties That Bind: The Relevance of Your Family Tree in Understanding Mental Health and Identity

Grandmother and granddaughter smiling

                You’ve probably heard the phrase, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from…” It’s an often repeated phrase with varied interpretations. On Google it is found in an abundance  of quotes. The most common versions seem to be  that without knowing your origins “you won’t know where you’re going” or an admonition about repeating the mistakes of the past. In Indigenous culture, when we meet a new person, it’s not uncommon to ask them who their family is.

  It gives context about the person’s intentions and how we should consider what they have to say.  If a person has taken the time to know their family, they are to some degree grounded and respect the lessons of their ancestors. We highly regard genealogy. There is important medicine in it. It can be healing as well as informative.

A few years ago, I was exhausted and burned out after I worked at a community mental health clinic for 18 months. I was probably depressed too. The work had been very demanding and sometimes scary. After I left I had little energy for anything, let alone figuring out where to go next with this mental health therapist career that I was now questioning the value of.

Fortunately, I had some time and I didn’t need to figure it out right away. I had enough energy to work on the computer and decided to really research my family. I had trifling interest for several years and it seemed like a restorative thing to do. Once I got into it, I quickly became consumed with the research. I would start up first thing in the morning and not quit until after dinner. I hadn’t been so interested in something for quite some time. The energy was amazing. In the process, not only did I begin to retrieve my health, but I learned many valuable lessons about why I thought about things the way I did and the historical events that shaped my unconscious leanings. I began to recover myself. It was and still is powerful medicine for my identity as I continue to discover new facts about my family and tribal tree. As such, I highly recommend this activity if you are struggling with identity issues, lack of purpose, and or feeling stuck in negative relationship patterns.

A very good place to start is the National Genealogical Society and their list of17 free resources  National Genealogical Society. If after you get your feet wet you decide this is something you might want to invest in, here is a link to the top four genealogy websites for 2024:

If genealogy isn’t your thing, I would recommend trying a genogram. This is powerful too and psychology’s version of the family tree. It can be completed on one page and ideally includes 3 generations of your family. However, if you know your family lineage beyond your grandparents, include those relatives as well. Go for it! This is an illuminating tool for seeing family dynamics, patterns, blessings, and burdens passed down through your extended family. The visual impact has helped my clients to see things they hadn’t or in a new way.  I recommend watching this YouTube video to get an idea of how to draw one: Paulena's Genogram. Also, another helpful video by a mental health therapist which goes more in depth YouTube OliveMe Counseling.

Is your interest piqued? Is this a resource that you would like to try, but would like some personal coaching? I love working on genograms with clients and can help you make meaning and heal. Feel free to contact me and schedule an appointment.

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