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Genetic Counselors: Role in Family Planning

Updated on January 22, 2018
Autosomal Dominant Pedigree Chart. In Autosomal Dominance the chance of receiving and expressing a particular gene is 50% regardless of the sex of parent or child.
Autosomal Dominant Pedigree Chart. In Autosomal Dominance the chance of receiving and expressing a particular gene is 50% regardless of the sex of parent or child. | Source

What Is A Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counseling was born in 1968, when Melissa Richter, a professor of psychology and biology at Sarah Lawrence College, realized the need to assist those people dealing with the reality of disease and disorder brought to light by the fast-paced evolution of genetic research. The first genetic counseling program was begun in 1969 by Ms. Richter at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.

Genetic counselors may:

  • conduct research to determine the mutational causes and prevention of genetic disorders.
  • provide advice to lawmakers regarding laws beneficial to protecting people against genetic discrimination

Genetic counselors work with patients or relatives of patients who are at risk or developing a genetic disorder. They are advised by these counselors of the following:

  • consequences of the disorder
  • nature of the disorder
  • probability of developing or transmitting the disorder to offspring
  • options in management and family planning

GNU Health - Genetics.  Genetic and personal information can be used by genetic councelors.
GNU Health - Genetics. Genetic and personal information can be used by genetic councelors. | Source

What Is A Genetic Disorder?

A genetic disorder results from a change in a gene known as a variation or mutation. The changed gene results in different proteins being formed causing the disease or disorder.

  • The mutation can occur in one gene or in a group of genes in a cell.
  • Extra copies of whole chromosomes or missing chromosomes will also result in genetic disorders. For example, Down's Syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.
  • The mutation may be spontaneous (naturally occurring) or it may be induced by radiation or chemicals such as cigarette smoke.

If the changed genetic material is found in the sperm or eggs, the mutation can be transmitted to offspring.

Expected Background Of Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors are experts with a Masters of Science degree in Genetic Counseling. In the United States, genetic counselors are certified by the American board of Genetic Counseling. In Canada, they are certified by the Canadian Association of Genetic Counselors. In both cases, genetic counselors:

  • act as part of a team
  • act as a patient advocate
  • serve as a resource to physicians

Educational Background Of Genetic Counselors

Apart from their Master of Science, genetic counselors have an educational background in many of the following fields of study:

  • biology
  • genetics
  • nursing
  • public health
  • social work
  • psychology

Skills Common To Effective Genetic Counselors

Good genetic counselors share the following skill set:

  • good educators
  • effective researchers
  • effective organizational skills
  • effective written skills
  • strong communication skills
  • strong critical thinking skills
  • strong interpersonal skills
  • psycho-social assessment skills
  • professional ethics and values
  • the ability to translate complex genetic jargon into everyday language
  • compassion
  • advocacy skills

To Test Or Not To Test?

Would you seek the advice of a genetic counselor if you suspected you and your husband were at risk of conceiving a child with a debilitating genetic disorder?

See results

How To Become A Genetic Counselor

1. In your undergraduate program you should have successfully completed courses in the following areas:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Genetics
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

2. Demonstrate skill in four areas by completing volunteer or work experience in the following areas :

  • advocacy experience by working or volunteering for a crisis hotline or pregnancy center.
  • working with or volunteering with a certified genetic counselor

3. . Obtain a Master's degree in genetic counseling from an accredited university (see below for examples).

4. Soon after graduating from the Master's program, pass the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) certification examination.

Resources Used

Clarke, Angus and Katie Thurlaway. Genome Medicine. Genomic counseling'? Genetic counseling in the genomic era. January 31, 2011.

Science Buddies. Genetic Counselor. 2002-2013.

Wikipedia. Genetic Counseling. December 11, 2012.


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