The ‘family tree’ of mental health exercise

This is a simple exercise intended to be completed either individually or preferably by a group (up to around 16 people) in discussion. The idea is to help care workers to overcome the perception that mental health is difficult to understand by asking them to arrange these 21 cards as they think they should go. Click the link below to download the PDF…

Mental disorders family tree exercise

Give them the blanked out key to work from as though it’s a jigsaw with the key taking the place of the picture on the box. 

mh family tree diagnosis symptoms exercise training

Most groups are able to do this correctly without any help at all – just by process of elimination, the application of the things they already know and the clues they can glean from the key (length of blacked out words, number of items in each column etc). I’ve done this little exercise with countless groups and only rarely do they need any assistance. Those few groups that have needed help didn’t need much. 

The advantage of this exercise is that it works as a warm up, it gets participants talking early on and it boosts their confidence. It also provides the participants with a rough and ready mental schema to hang the rest of the day’s training on to. 

Follow it up with a discussion about the fact that, whilst mental health work might seem very complicated, at its most basic level it’s really just about these categories and symptom groups. There is, of course much more to learn but this little overview really is a damn good start!

Complete the contact form below to arrange training for your staff.

3 thoughts on “The ‘family tree’ of mental health exercise

  1. Puzzled a bit by some of these, persnality dirder ‘not an illness’. Is that in the sense that it can’t currently be cured? In which case neither can schizophrenia or depression? And if it’s not an illness then how can peopel be detained under s3 of the MHA for treatment? Possibly explains why peopel diagniosed with EUPD seem not to get treated ……..


    1. Hi Judy,

      It’s not quite so black & white as all that. Essentially it may help to think of PD as a collection of traits that may make people more susceptible to illnesses but that is not an illness in itself.

      In the case of EUPD people with those diagnoses tend to be more susceptible to anxiety, depression & psychosis at times of stress. So we treat the illness but not the personality. That’s no different from what happens with everyone else – we treat illness but not personality.

      With people diagnosed with PDs we also tend to look at coping strategies designed to reduce the likelihood of stress-related anxiety, depression or psychosis (mental health promotion, CBT etc) but that’s still not treating ‘personality’ per se.

      If you subscribe to the blog this will become clearer. Remember that in giving away all my materials I’m still at an early stage. It gets more nuanced over time – especially the serialised series, ‘The Guide’ which, if I remember rightly is scheduled for Wednesday mornings.

      Does that make sense?




    2. Hi again, Judy. This is an extract from something I wrote a few years ago. It may help a little more…

      “I am not suggesting that modern personality disorder diagnoses depend upon financial means. That’s not the legacy that was handed down to us. I am suggesting (and I intend to demonstrate) that in 2010 the diagnoses that make up the personality disorder group depend upon ideas of acceptable behaviour and social value judgements just as surely as did their Edwardian predecessors.

      There are no blood tests for personality disorders. Neither are there any physical examinations. In point of fact there is no evidence that personality disorders are ‘medical’ conditions at all. Hence the controversy.

      What we have instead are judgements about behaviours. Some behaviours are thought to be ‘normal’ and some ‘abnormal’. However they remain no more than behaviours and coping strategies.

      Alongside these we have judgements about what sort of emotions are ‘normal’ and the degree of emotional control that people are expected to exercise. People who fail to live up to the expectations of the psychiatric manuals, either because of their thoughts, their feelings or their behaviours are labelled as having a personality disorder of one type or another.

      Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to understand the people we work with. In fact throughout this series I hope to show that such understanding is vital if we truly are to help them. People do have different personalities and those differences really do present particular issues relevant for mental health. The more we know about these issues the more help we can be.

      So there is value in classifying different personality traits and types because it helps us to work with people. However when personality classification strays into value judgements and decisions about ‘deservingness’ it becomes a very dangerous ‘double-edged sword’.

      My own view is that this understanding is crucial and positive so long as we keep it in perspective and refrain from making judgements about a person’s worth or write them off as ‘incurable’. After all – we are not meant to ‘cure’ personality.

      Really the work of mental health services can be boiled down (very broadly) into treating and/or alleviating four types of problem only. They are – anxiety, depression, psychosis and dementia. We can, however, treat these problems far more effectively when we understand the personality of the individual at hand.

      It is my earnest hope that the legacy we leave for future generations of mental health service providers will be a focus upon understanding the personality without the value judgements that were bequeathed to us by our Edwardian predecessors.”




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s