What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counseling is a personalized genetic evaluation and risk assessment, with psychological support and counseling as needed. It is often provided by referral when a physician or other healthcare professional finds an indication that an individual or his or her children may be at increased risk for a genetic disease or disorder. Most genetic counseling is offered by genetic counselors or clinical medical geneticists, or occasionally by Ph.D. clinical geneticists, all specially trained providers of the most up-to-date genetic information.

In a genetic counseling session, the clinical medical or Ph.D. clinical geneticist or genetic counselor reviews the individual's personal and family health history, provides an assessment of the person's risk for the disorder being discussed, and recommends laboratory testing if it is indicated and available. Like other counseling sessions, the genetic counselor or geneticist will offer emotional support and non-judgemental assistance. Genetic counseling is neither directive nor paternalistic, and encourages each person to choose to do what he or she believes is most appropriate for him or herself and his or her family.

How are genetic counselors trained?

If the genetic counseling is provided by a "clinical medical geneticist", then the person counseling the patient is a medical doctor who has completed specialty training in medical genetics. Similarly, a "Ph.D. clinical geneticist" is an individual with a Ph.D. and training and certification in clinical genetics. If the genetic counseling is provided by a "genetic counselor", then the person counseling the patient is a healthcare professional who has obtained the Master of Science degree in genetic counseling or a closely related field. Training programs for "genetic counselors" emphasize both the science of genetics and the techniques of counseling. The professional organization for genetic counselors is the National Society for Genetic Counseling. The American Board of Genetic Counseling provides certification in genetic counseling.