John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology


Sociograms are a visual representation of the relationships in a group. In a diagrammatic version of the sociogram, circles represent people in a group. A solid line with an arrow at the end represents that one person "likes" or feels close to another (there may be arrows at both ends if the feeling is mutual). A broken line (or, in the diagram above, a lightly colored line) represents a person "not liking" or being in conflict with another.

sociogramThe patterns created by the lines indicate the patterns of relationships and subgroupings within the group, as well as the overall cohesion of the group. So in the illustration to the right, there is an alliance between B & C, an A-D-E subgroup, conflicts between A & B and C & D, and B serves as a bridge between the dyad and triad groups. The overall cohesion of the group is moderate in strength

I give the students a handout with four sociogram examples similar to the one on this page. After we discuss these examples and everyone understands how sociograms work, we're ready to move on to the next step.

I then ask students to draw a sociogram of their family. When they're finished, I suggest that they walk around the room and compare their sociograms to those of other students. How are they the similar and different in terms of family size, composition, patterns of "like" and "dislike," subgroupings, etc. I encourage them to talk to each other about their family structures and their position in their families. In my course on Group Dynamics, I ask students to draw a sociogram of their group and to compare it to a sociogram of their family. This exercise helps students see how they tend to recreate family patterns within their group of peers.

Here are some other issues about the sociogram drawing that might be significant in revealing the person's feelings and attitudes about his or her family:

  • What circles did you draw first?
  • How do the sizes of the circles compare to each other?
  • How are the circles placed in relation to each other (close, far away, on top, below, or next to each other)?
  • How complex or simple is the drawing, or parts of it?
  • Was anything erased or changed?
  • Are there any other patterns or textures to the drawing that might be psychologically significant? Hold the drawing at arms length, squint your eyes, and look at it. This "squint technique" can sometimes highlight patterns or textures that you might have overlooked.

Physical sociograms

In my course on Group Dynamics, I apply the sociogram concept in a more physical way. I tell the group of students to sit in an arrangement in which physical distance equals feelings of closeness. They arrange themselves so that they are physically closer to the people they know well, and further away from people they don't know. To further clarify interpersonal bonds, they can put their hands on the shoulders of the people they feel closest to. Once the sociogram is completed, we discuss what we see, including patterns of subgroups, how subgroups relate to each other, people who seem isolated, the overall structure of the class, and how it felt to create the sociogram. I take a photo of the sociogram we create near the beginning of the semester, and another at the end of the semester, so we can see how patterns of relationships changed.


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