Genetic counsellors have specialist knowledge in human genetics, counselling and health communication skills. They work as part of a team, usually with medical specialists such as clinical geneticists, oncologists, obstetricians, neurologists and cardiologists.
A genetic counsellor provides information to individuals and families about genetic conditions. That may involve learning about how they are inherited or who in the family may be at risk of developing a particular condition. Genetic counsellors also provide emotional and practical support to help people adjust to living with, or being at risk for, a genetic condition.
Where do genetic counsellors practise?
Genetic counsellors work in a range of settings including hospitals and community health centres, medical specialist clinics, obstetric ultrasound practices, research institutions, genetics laboratories and policy and project roles with government.
When should I see a genetic counsellor?
There are a wide range of reasons to see a genetic counsellor but some typical reasons include:
- Information for couples planning a family who want information about the chance of having a child with a genetic condition
- People who have a personal or family history of young onset cancer, particularly breast, ovarian or bowel cancer
- People who have a family history of a genetic condition or are concerned that they have symptoms of a genetic condition.
What services do genetic counsellors provide?
Genetic counsellors help people make informed decisions about genetic testing, interpret test results and communicate the implications of the result, for the individual and their family members. Genetic counsellors also consider the implications of a genetic diagnosis on the patient’s immediate and extended family.
Some examples are:
- Reproductive genetic counselling where advice and counselling regarding screening for genetic conditions before and during pregnancy may be provided or information and support may be provided if a pregnancy is affected by a genetic condition.
- Cancer genetic counselling where advice and counselling regarding a personal and family history of cancer, in particular breast, ovarian and bowel cancer that has developed at a young age is provided.
- Paediatric genetic counselling where information and support is provided to parents after a new diagnosis of a genetic condition in a developmentally delayed child with a genetic condition (for example, fragile x syndrome).
There are genetic conditions in practically every medical specialty for which genetic counselling may be sought.
Other specialities that genetic counsellors commonly work in include neurology and cardiology. With advances in genetic testing technologies, including the ability to test a person’s entire genetic code (or “genome”), genetic counsellors are being called upon by other specialities to work with families whose healthcare may benefit from the genetic information these technologies can bring.
How are genetic counsellors qualified?
In order to practice in Australia, a genetic counsellor must complete the following:
- A clinical Masters of Genetic Counselling degree approved by the Board of Censors (BOC) for Genetic Counselling (under the auspices of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia (HGSA)
- A minimum of 2 years on the job training to become a Certified Genetic Counsellor.
For more detailed information about genetic counselling, please visit the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors website or the Centre for Genetics Education website.
Find a genetic counsellor
The Human Genetics Society of Australasia has a Find a Genetic Counsellor service that can be accessed here.