An ecomap is equivalent to a system diagram utilized in the software development industry. What a system diagram does is allow an analyst to define relationships between objects. Objects, to a system analyst, can be anything from data tables, to process control programs to functions. these objects can relate in either input or output types and behave in accordance with these relationships.
To illustrate: a tables can be defined to hold data from several processes. The “load,” or amount of data coming in to the table relates to the amount of processes that store data within the table. Furthermore, if a data table does become overloaded, its response to the system becomes a drain as it must utilize processor performance to an extreme level. If an analyst recognizes that a table is overloaded, than he/she can choose to define other tables as a way to minimize the overload. A properly designed software application is one that maintains efficiency throughout the defined system. This seems analogous to the some potential purposes of an ecomap.
As relationships are mapped, a therapist can see a graphic depiction of relationships that are efficient in the sense of the family or individual receives or transmits “energy” at levels that can be efficient, or detrimental, depending upon the overall displacement of the collection of energy.
A question or challenge to this tool is whether or not human relationships can be reduced to such basic components. If a family is in fact a system the analogy stands. However, if a family is a collection of individuals, then to analyze a family from this perspective can become much more difficult because as each individual becomes a subject to consider. To draw further from the information technology field, it is much simpler to analyze an individual component as it inherits attributes from its Class. The Class is a data definition where many objects can be subjected. A family as a class means that a family member is a sub-type of the family and has attributes of the family, or class.
The above statement leads into the discussion concerning Bowen’s concern about generational pathology and its relationship to differentiation. What this means is that if a family’s pathology’s are not recognized, then future generation just become more pathological over time. Likewise, if an object fails due to its inheritance from its class, then an analyst must redefine the object outside of its class definition. The object can then behave in an systematically efficient manner; however, if this redefinition does not take place then the system is hierarchically unstable.
Recognition of familial pathology is critical for individual health. I cannot allow my family’s history of alcohol abuse to fall upon my son. It is incumbent upon me to recognize the issue and then differentiate myself from it. Furthermore, i must define my life as healthy so that my son can therefore be healthy. The ecomap of my own family and life’s relationships may be unbalanced; however, through recognition and effort, i can not pass on weaknesses, but do have the definitions of the strengths that i have also inherited from my family.