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Genetic Counselling

  1. Ann P Walker

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005615.pub2



How to Cite

Walker, A. P. 2009. Genetic Counselling. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of California Irvine, Irvine, California, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (14 DEC 2016)


Genetic counselling has evolved and matured along with the science of medical genetics. Understanding the genetic basis of thousands of diseases and our growing ability to diagnose many of them – not just in the clinic but also prenatally and even at the time of conception – has made genetic counselling increasingly complex. Graduate degree programmes in genetic counselling were developed in response to the fact that such counselling requires knowledge of medical genetics, specific counselling skills and awareness of the psychosocial and ethical dimensions of hereditary disease. Such training now exists in 17 countries. Genetic counselling entails analysing family medical histories to assess the chance of inherited disease; explaining, coordinating and interpreting genetic tests; providing information about the condition's features, treatment and inheritance; helping people make decisions about reproductive and treatment options and guiding and supporting them as they deal with the impact of the condition or risk on their life.

Key concepts:

  • Genetic counselling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychosocial and familial aspects of hereditary disease.

  • Genetic counsellors interpret family medical histories and use this and other information to assess the chance of a hereditary disease occurring or recurring.

  • Genetic counsellors educate clients, medical professionals and the public about inheritance, testing, management and prevention of genetic disease.

  • Modern genetic counselling is nondirective and seeks to help individuals and families in making personal health and reproductive decisions that are consonant with their goals and ethical beliefs.

  • Genetic counsellors are allied health professionals who have graduate education in medical genetics and the psychosocial and ethical aspects of genetic disease, as well as specialized training in counselling.

  • There are now genetic counselling training programmes in 17 countries across 4 continents.

  • Genetic counsellors work not only in a variety of clinical settings, but also in public health and policy; diagnostic laboratories; research; biotech, pharmaceutical and Internet companies and advocacy and other not-for-profit genetics groups.


  • genetic counsellor;
  • genetic counselling;
  • nondirective counselling;
  • scope of practice;
  • genetic counsellor training