Genetic Counselling: Psychological Issues


Psychological issues in genetic counselling arise from the genetic risk or condition affecting patients. Genetic counselling is psycho‐educational but the practice has a psychotherapeutic approach that attends to the cognitive, affective and behavioural aspects of the genetic information. As such, genetic counselling strives to help clients make informed choices and when there is no choice to make, to cope effectively, and ultimately adapt, to their risk or condition. The psychological issues emanate from the nature of the condition, clients' informational needs and risk perceptions, as well as their lived experiences, personality traits and socioeconomic resources. Overall, evidence suggests that most clients and patients cope with the stress of a risk or condition successfully and adapt over time. Genetic counselling can be instrumental in facilitating that process through helping clients capitalise on their personal strengths and resources. Psychologically vulnerable clients may be referred for longer‐term psychotherapy.

Key Concepts

  • Genetic counselling is psychoeducational as clients learn how genetics contributes to their health risks and then process what this means and how it feels.
  • Genetic counselling clients experience genetic conditions or risk according to their own illness perceptions and this predicts their overall quality of life.
  • Genetic counselling clients often have to make a decision on whether to use genetic testing to help them manage a familial risk for disease.
  • Shared decision‐making may enhance informed choice among genetic counselling clients.
  • Genetic counselling aims to help clients adapt to living with a genetic condition or risk, often by enhancing coping effectiveness.

Keywords: genetic counselling; psychology; counselling interventions; decision making; informed choice; coping; adaptation; living with uncertainty; stigmatisation; parental guilt


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Biesecker, Barbara B(Aug 2016) Genetic Counselling: Psychological Issues. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005616.pub3]