Genetics Northern California

Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling is a process that gives individuals and families information about genetic conditions. When a genetic condition is diagnosed, genetic counseling includes recommendations for appropriate medical care. Genetic counseling also addresses the emotional impact of a genetic condition and the genetic risk for the family. Genetic counseling visits are tailored to the patient and are done in a non-directive and supportive manner. This lets families make medical decisions that reflect their personal values and cultural beliefs.

Here's a handout about genetic counseling services at Kaiser Permanente: Genetic Services

Who provides genetic counseling?
Genetic counselors and medical geneticists provide genetic counseling. Most genetic counselors have Master degrees and are trained in genetic conditions and the emotional impact of these conditions. They are certified by the American Board of Genetic Counselors and are licensed in the State of California. Genetic counselors often work with medical geneticists as a team. Geneticists are medical doctors with specialized training in human genetics and genetic diseases. These doctors know how to diagnose rare genetic conditions and make recommendations about medical care for these conditions. They are certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics.

Who might want to consider genetic counseling?

Pregnant with US pictures Pregnant women who:
  ...are considering prenatal diagnosis. 
  ...have received a positive prenatal screening test result.
  ...have a problem found on a prenatal ultrasound exam.
  ...have a family history of birth defects, inherited conditions, or intellectual disability.
     ...are concerned about an exposure during pregnancy (e.g., infection, such as chicken pox). 
     ...are identified as carriers of a genetic condition from carrier screening tests.

Couple-pregnant Couples who: 
  ...have a history of multiple miscarriages, stillbirths or early infant deaths.
  ...are first cousins or close blood relative.

Individiual-male Individuals with a:
  ...known or suspected genetic condition. history of Down syndrome or other chromosome abnormality.
  ...child or other close relative who is intellectually disabled or developmentally delayed. history of an inherited condition (e.g., hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington disease, PKU).  history of physical birth defects (e.g., cleft lip or palate, congenital heart defects, spina bifida). history of hearing or visual impairments.
     ...strong family history of adult onset disorders (e.g., heart disease, psychiatric illness, neurologic conditions, cancer).

Many people think about genetic counseling only when they are pregnant or planning children. However, even individuals who have completed their families or who choose not to have children may still find genetic counseling valuable. For example, an individual with a suspected diagnosis may get a confirmed diagnosis, along with more detailed information about the condition and recommendations regarding medical care. New information from a genetics evaluation may also be important for close relatives.

How to receive genetic counseling services.
Genetic referrals come from a health care provider or at the request of a patient. Sometimes a patient calls the Genetics department directly with questions about possible genetic issues.  

Kaiser members interested in a Genetics referral can talk with their health care provider or call their local 
Kaiser Permanente Genetics Department.

What to expect during a genetic counseling appointment.
During a genetic counseling appointment, the genetic counselor takes a detailed family history, discusses patterns of inheritance, provides a risk assessment, and addresses emotional responses. A genetic counselor may start by contacting the patient (or parent) by phone. An in-person appointment is always available for patients who are interested. Kaiser also offer online video appointments for some visits.

What to Expect at Your Genetics Visit
What to Expect at Your Child's Genetic Visit

For more information about genetic counselors visit theNational Society of Genetic Counselors.

Last reviewed: February 8, 2018
Reviewed by: Kimberly Barr, MS, LCGC