Field of Genetic Counseling

What is Genetic Counseling?

counseling 2Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. This process integrates:

  • Interpretation of family and medical histories to assess the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence.
  • Education about inheritance, testing, management, prevention, resources and research.
  • Counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to the risk or condition.

NSGC 2005

Who are Genetic Counselors?

Genetic counselors are Master’s-trained health care professionals who combine their knowledge of basic science, medical genetics, epidemiological principles, and counseling theory with their skills in genetic risk assessment, education, interpersonal communication and counseling to provide services to clients and their families for a diverse set of genetic or genomic indications.

Genetic counselors are employed in many settings such as university medical centers, community clinics, physician offices, health maintenance organizations, advocacy organizations, governmental agencies, public health departments, and biotechnology companies.  Those in clinical practice provide education and counseling in such areas as reproductive genetics, pediatric genetics, newborn screening follow-up, cancer genetics, neurogenetics, and cardiovascular genetics. Many genetic counselors are also actively involved in teaching and clinical research. The profession is growing rapidly with the number of certified genetic counselors increasing 88% since 2006.  Demand continues to rise as well, with 3-4 job openings for every graduate.

Job satisfaction is high in genetic counseling. Almost 90% of genetic counselors reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their job in a 2016 survey. Respondents were most satisfied with the following aspects of the profession: scientific content, patient counseling/contact, learning opportunities, and the opportunity for personal growth. (National Society of Genetic Counselors 2016 Professional Status Survey)

Resources about Becoming a Genetic Counselor

Genetic Counseling Practiced Based Competencies (2013)

The essential skill set for genetic counselors falls under the four domains below.  These  domains  represent  practice  areas  that  define  the  activities  of  a genetic counselor.

Domain I: Genetics Expertise and Analysis

  • Demonstrate and utilize a depth and breadth of understanding and knowledge of genetics and genomics core concepts and principles.
  • Integrate knowledge of psychosocial aspects of conditions with a genetic component to pro­mote client well being.
  • Construct relevant, targeted and compre­hensive personal and family histories and pedigrees.
  • Identify, assess, facilitate, and integrate genetic testing options in genetic counseling practice.
  • Assess individuals’ and their relatives’ proba­bility of conditions with a genetic component or carrier status based on their pedigree, test result(s), and other pertinent information.
  • Demonstrate the skills necessary to success­fully manage a genetic counseling case.
  • Critically assess genetic/genomic, medical and social science literature and information.

Domain II: Interpersonal, Psychosocial and Counseling Skills

  • Establish a mutually agreed upon genetic counseling agenda with the client.
  • Employ active listening and interviewing skills to identify, assess, and empathically respond to stated and emerging concerns.
  • Use a range of genetic counseling skills and models to facilitate informed decision-making and adaptation to genetic risks or conditions.
  • Promote client-centered, informed, non-coer­cive and value-based decision-making.
  • Understand how to adapt genetic counseling skills for varied service delivery models.
  • Apply genetic counseling skills in a cultur­ally responsive and respectful manner to all clients.

Domain III: Education

  • Effectively educate clients about a wide range of genetics and genomics information based on their needs, their characteristics and the circumstances of the encounter.
  • Write concise and understandable clinical and scientific information for audiences of varying educational backgrounds.
  • Effectively give a presentation on genetics, genomics and genetic counseling issues.

Domain IV: Professional Development & Practice

  • Act in accordance with the ethical, legal and philosophical principles and values of the genetic counseling profession and the policies of one’s institution or organization.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the research process.
  • Advocate for individuals, families, communi­ties and the genetic counseling profession.
  • Demonstrate a self-reflective, evidenced-based and current approach to genetic counseling practice.
  • Understand the methods, roles and responsi­bilities of the process of clinical supervision of trainees.
  • Establish and maintain professional inter­disciplinary relationships in both team and one-on-one settings, and recognize one’s role in the larger healthcare system.

Click here for the full ACGC Practice-Based Competencies Document

Genetic Counseling Scope of Practice

The responsibilities of a genetic counselor are threefold:

  • to provide expertise in clinical genetics;
  • to counsel and communicate with patients on matters of clinical genetics;
  • to provide genetic counseling services in accordance with professional ethics and values. 

Click here for the full NSGC Scope of Practice Document