While genetic counselors deal with stressful situations (educating patients on their chances of inheriting a genetic disorder or disease), they offer patients factual information and potentially life-saving advice. They also advise patients on the best way to handle such conditions emotionally and physically. They test patients for disorders, and if the patient tests positive, the genetic counselor will provide counseling services, not just for the patient, but for the patient’s family too.
To become a genetic counselor, the candidate must have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. Most genetic counselors must also obtain a license or certification for their specified field.
Counselors are not limited to genetics. Many counselors in this position are trained in other areas, like oncology, pediatrics, prenatal care or neurology, giving them a leg up on their peers and a higher knowledge base in their field.
They combine their basic scientific knowledge with these fields and fuse them with their knowledge of medical genetics, risk assessment, interpersonal communication and counseling skills in order to help patients and family members make the most educated decisions with their health. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Definition Task Force, genetic counselors help patients “…understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.” The process of genetic counseling “… integrates the following: 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.”
While many counselors opt to go into one of these fields, a counselor might also choose to become an administrator, researcher or teacher. The field is growing and has seen a 400% increase in genetic counselors since 1992.