Genetic counseling is the professional interaction between a healthcare provider with specialized knowledge of genetics and an individual or family. The genetic counselor determines whether a condition in the family may be genetic and estimates the chances that another relative may be affected. Genetic counselors also offer and interpret genetic tests that may help to estimate risk of disease. The genetic counselor conveys information in an effort to address concerns of the client and provides psychological counseling to help families adapt to their condition or risk.
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Genetic counseling is a professional interaction between a provider and somebody from the general public. You can request to see a genetic counselor because you have a concern about something that's in your family history or you want to know what screening tests are available to you in order to prevent something from occurring in your family. Or you might undergo genetic counseling because somebody is concerned that something's wrong with your child or somebody else in your family. We think about genetic counseling as a process. It's a process of understanding the genetic contribution to disease. It's a process of understanding ways to avoid risks or minimize risks to affected individuals. But importantly, it's also a process in which people can talk about their feelings of loss, and disappointment and heartbreak and be given opportunities to make good, informed decisions and to improve their health outcomes.
Barbara Bowles Biesecker, Ph.D.
Associate Investigator, Social and Behavioral Research Branch; Head, Genetic Services Research Unit; Director, JHU/NHGRI Genetic Counseling Training Program
Ms. Biesecker's research and teaching activities focus on making genetic counseling as effective as possible, which is a growing challenge as new genetic technologies generate an avalanche of data and questions about the meaning of genetic tests. This data has highlighted the fact that behavioral researchers do not yet know enough about the best ways to help people decide how to use their own genetic information in making health and reproductive decisions. Since genetic counseling has a relatively sparse amount of research to guide its professionals, Ms. Biesecker and her colleagues are on the cutting edge of genetic counseling research.