Genetic Counseling: What Is It? And Who Needs It?

By Rhonda Reinhart

Erynn Gordon helped design the certification test for genetic counselors. Photograph by Chris Sembrot

In the spring issue of Genome, we introduced you to the oft-misunderstood profession of genetic counseling. If you’ve been wondering if you should see a genetic counselor, first consider this information from the American Board of Genetic Counseling:

What Is Genetic Counseling?

The goal of genetic counseling is to help you learn more about the causes of genetic conditions and how they affect you. Genetic counselors can:

  1. Review your family and medical histories.
  2. Explain how genetic conditions are passed down through families.
  3. Figure out if you or your family members are at risk for disease.
  4. Find and give you information about genetic conditions.
  5. Offer guidance to help you make informed choices or life plans.
  6. Provide information about testing options and help you decide what is best for you and your family.
  7. Help you find referrals to medical specialists, advocacy and support networks, and other resources.

 Why Might I See a Genetic Counselor?

  1. You are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and are concerned about the health of your baby.
  2. Your baby had an abnormal result from newborn screening.
  3. You, your child, or a family member has been diagnosed with a genetic condition.
  4. You are concerned that you, your child, or a family member has a genetic or inherited condition and would like more information.
  5. Your family has a history of developmental disability, birth defects, and/or mental retardation.
  6. Your family has a history of mental illness.
  7. Your family has a history of cancer. 

How Can I Find a Genetic Counselor?

Go to the website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors and use its online tool for finding a certified or licensed genetic counselor near you.