Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and family implications of genetic conditions.
Why is it necessary and who should consider it?
Some parents are referred for genetic counseling after genetic testing shows an unexpected result during pregnancy or in the newborn period. Other parents may seek out genetic counseling based on a family history of a medical or developmental disability. Still others see a genetic counselor in order to weigh the pros and cons of genetic testing before deciding whether to pursue it. Genetic counseling is appropriate for any individual or couple who has questions or concerns about genetic testing, inherited conditions or testing results.
What qualifications must a genetic counselor meet before practicing?
Genetic counselors are specialized health professionals with graduate degrees in genetic counseling or human genetics. In North America, genetic counselors typically have master’s degrees and have achieved national certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (abgc.net). A growing number of states issue professional licenses for genetic counselors to ensure that consumers have access to qualified professionals.
What should I look for in a genetic counselor?
Consumers should verify that a genetic counselor is either certified or eligible to be certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. In addition, consumers should seek out a genetic counselor specializing in the area they’re interested in. For example, parents wanting to know more about genetic testing in a child should look for a pediatric genetic counselor, while pregnant couples should search for a prenatal genetic counselor.
What will a meeting consist of?
During an initial meeting, a genetic counselor will take a detailed medical family history and review any recommended genetic testing related to the reason for your referral. He or she will talk with you about the benefits and limitations of genetic testing as well as other information you should consider before having genetic testing completed. If testing results are available, a genetic counselor can explain the meaning of the results for you and other members of your family. Genetic counselors are particularly skilled at explaining complex genetic and medical information in a way that’s understandable for consumers. They can help you explore strategies for discussing the results with other family members, as well as provide you with resources for additional information and support.
How can I find a genetic counselor near me?
Consumers can access a “Find A Genetic Counselor” search tool on the NSGC’s website at nsgc.org. They can also contact the NSGC by phone at 312/321.6834 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brenda Finucane, MS, CGC, is past president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.