What is Genetic Counseling?

Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.

This process integrates:


    • 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.


NSGC 2005

Who are Genetic Counselors?

Genetic counselors work as members of a health care team,providing information and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. They identify families at risk, investigate the problem present in the family, interpret information about the disorder, analyze inheritance patterns and risk of recurrence and review available options with the family.

Genetic counselors also provide supportive counseling to families, serve as patient advocates and refer individuals and families to community or state support services. They serve as educators and resource people for other health care professionals and for the general public. Some counselors also work in administrative capacities. Many engage in research activities related to the field of medical genetics and counseling.

For more information about genetic counseling, refer to the following video, I Am a Genetic Counselor, which is a tribute to and description of the growing and evolving roles genetic counselors play across the spectrum of healthcare. You may also wish to contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

The Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling has defined Practice-Based Competencies for genetic counselors. These are listed on the ACGC website and can also be found by clicking HERE.

The Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors has published a brochure for potential applicants to genetic counseling programs. The National Society of Genetic Counselors also has additional information regarding the profession for students and prospective genetic counselors.

Practice Based Competencies

The Practice-Based Competencies define and describe the twenty-two practice-based competencies that an entry-level provider must demonstrate to successfully practice as a genetic counselor. It provides guidance for the training of genetic counselors and an assessment for the maintenance of competency of practicing genetic counselors. The didactic and experiential components of a genetic counseling training curriculum and maintenance of competency for providers must support the development of competencies categorized in the following domains: (I) Genetics Expertise and Analysis; (II) Interpersonal, Psychosocial and Counseling Skills; (III) Education; and (IV) Professional Development & Practice. These domains describe the minimal skill set of a genetic counselor, which should be applied across practice settings.

To download the full ACGC Practice-Based Competencies document, click here.