What is Genetic Counselling?

What is Genetic Counselling?

As a genetic counsellor, “what is genetic counselling?” is the most common question I am asked. Most people are not aware of ever having met a genetic counsellor and do not know what genetic counselling is or what genetic counsellors do. Genetic counselling is a relatively new profession and there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding our professional name and whether it is the best description of what our role entails.

Genetic counselling is aimed at providing information and support to people who have or are at risk of genetic disorders. A genetic counsellor is a postgraduately trained health care professional who can identify your risk factors and provides clear information about the chances of being affected by a specific genetic condition. Usually when you have a health related question or concern you go and see a General Practitioner. If this issue is genetics related, you may be referred to see a genetic counsellor.

Genetic counsellors are health care professionals who integrate their knowledge on medical genetics, basic science and counselling theory with their skills in genetic risk assessment and communication to educate their clients on a diverse set of genomic or genetic indications. They help people to understand their genetic contributions to disease. These professionals are employed in diverse settings such as public hospitals, community health centres, IVF clinics, university research facilities and private medical centres. Genetic counsellor usually have an undergraduate degree in science, nursing, social work, teaching or psychology followed by a two years masters course in genetic counselling. Once qualified and practicing in the field, genetic counsellors usually undergo an accreditation process to become certified.

Genetic counsellors investigate the genetic history of your family, arrange for appropriate genetic testing, interpret the details about your disorder, evaluate the inheritance patterns and review the options available to treat your medical condition. They will also liaise with your general practitioner and other medical specialists in regards to your results.

Some common examples of when you may meet with a genetic counsellor include:
• You have undergone routine pregnancy screening tests and have received a high risk result
• You have a strong family history of a particular condition and would like information about your risks and about genetic testing
• You have just had a diagnosis of breast or ovarian cancer and your medical oncologist would like to know whether you have an inherited reason for your history of cancer
• You have a child with a recessive condition like cystic fibrosis and would like to discuss carrier testing and options for following pregnancies

It is a rewarding and fulfilling professional and I love doing my job. There is an international shortage of genetic counsellors so it might just be a great new vocation for you too.

Happy Friday

Matt Burgess
Consultant Genetic Counsellor

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