2    Jan 20112 comments

How Genealogy helps Psychotherapy

"Since this family research started, communication with and between my relatives has reopened. I could better understand the distances between relatives. I could even better recognize the similarities and differences I have with some relatives. " Dr Modesto M Alonso.

Modesto is a psychotherapist and lives in Argentina. While working on the identity of his patients he has found that family history can be a very important part of the process. Modesto is a user of MyHeritage.com, and he advises to his patients to use the site as a tool to rebuild their family's history.

We conducted an interview with him and were fascinated with the subject. We believe it is of great interest for everyone because we are all influenced by our family history. Our identity stems from our family history and it is important to understand why and how we are. Personally, it made me think and analyze a lot about myself and how I have been  influenced by my family. Here is this fascinating interview:

How did your interest in Genealogy and family history begin?

I started my family investigation as part of my own therapy - about 40 years ago, when we did not have computers and created everything with a pencil and a piece of paper.

As a person it was of great interest to know and understand more about me as an individual and my history. As a psychotherapist it was important in order to better understand the people and families I treated.

How was your own experience when you researched your family history?

It would be a long story, but first I was struck by the diversity of versions of the same event or person (Rashomon effect). Many taboos and rejection to talk about certain issues came up. I had the opportunity to recover unknown and valuable aspects of several relatives. It was interesting to discover how people in each branch of the family lived their own glories and tragedies. How interesting it was to analyze the relationship between ideologies and lifestyle differences in the ways of acting in every branch of their family.

Since this family research started, communication with and between my relatives has reopened. I could better understand the distances between relatives. I could even better recognize the similarities and differences I have with some relatives. Also, I could understand the source for certain belief systems in my family.

When did you realize that Genealogy could help Psychotherapy?

In the beginning our research line in Psychotherapy was focused on how to “work on the identity of a person”. The analysis of family history was considered relevant in our country given the fact that Argentina was conformed with strong European immigration flows. This mixture of different cultures strongly influenced people´s beliefs, customs, stories, and identities.

We found out that analyzing family history is very useful to understand someone. Family therapists have always been pointing out the value of the genealogy and family research. An important question has always been:Who am I and how has my family influenced how I am?

How does Genealogy work in Psychotherapy?

I have worked with several individuals, groups, couples and families in psychotherapy while using a genealogical approach. Reviewing family history reinforces or pulls down many myths, reopens or changes unknown stories. All of these can be rewarding or distressing, but in the end it always affects our identity in the sense of how we see ourselves and our family.

The mere fact of trying to learn more about the family is always shocking on several levels. Very interesting discoveries and changes occur. These changes may affect the narcissism and self-esteem of someone, as you may discover that their family background was not as glorious or was not as bad as you thought. That affects their personal and social self-image.

Understanding the history of the family structure and its dynamic functionality helps for the comprehension of why a person is the way he or she is, and that enriches our work.

Can you share with us any interesting or emotional experiences with a patient?

One of the most striking stories I have is about an engineer that was close to his 41st birthday and had severe anxiety attacks that were getting worse. In the beginning we could not find the way to discover the reason.

While reconstructing this family history many interesting things came up, but more importantly he found out the reason for his problem. He realized that all his life his relatives told him that he was like his uncle, so unconsciously he thought it was a command to live like him.

Later on this uncle committed suicide when he was 41. Therefore he realized that the anxiety was related to his 41st birthday and connected what happened to this uncle. When he realized this, his anxiety diminished and he could approach many relatives he'd kept his distance from for years.

How long have you been a Myheritage.com user and what do you like most about the site?

I started my family site in 2008 and have 105 people in my family tree. In the beginning I used simple genealogy programs. Then I found Myheritage.com and I was amazed at how complete it is, the way it facilitates tasks, how rich the reports are, and so on. The great design of the program shows the great expertise of the development team. I am very grateful.

Do you recommend Myheritage.com to your patients?

Yes, I recommend the site with enthusiasm. Not everyone decides in the end to reconstruct its family history. From the ones that do I receive very positive comments on how MyHeritage.com made it easier for them to reconstruct their family past and connect with their family in the present.

What recommendations can you give people who begin their family research?

First I would congratulate people because this journey of discovery with family history will enrich their understanding of themselves. Also it is a great opportunity to create a new way of communication with their relatives.

I also warn everyone that it can be sometimes painful, annoying or surprising. They can find it tough to advance their knowledge sometimes in themselves and in other people. Some relatives they will talk to can react with distress, suffering, anger when they feel someone tries to learn more about their stories.

The family history is a great source of discovery in many ways, often very pleasant and exciting. Somehow, many things will change the way we see life.

We thank Modesto for this amazing interview, we think this new approach gives much more importance to Genealogy and how it enriches people´s life.

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (2)
  1. I started in 2000 after a family reunion. It is also a kind of therapy for me, because I can sit in front of the computer and forgetting that there is some body else with me, and sometimes caries om until early morning. As I am finish with all the dates and received all the photo's I need I started a book and is 99% finish. But now I'm interested in the family in Netherlands because in 2005 I correspond with him, but lost touch.
  2. I found the same kind of sickness (depression) in 5 generations of my wife's family tree. The question is: how to ask the other members of family tree to write so individual data about close relatives?
    Particularly in myHeritage, when no owners of branches (one administrator for all family tree).

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