Genetic counseling generally refers to prenatal counseling done when a genetic condition is suspected in a pregnancy. Genetic counseling can occur before conception (i.e. when one or two of the parents are carriers of a certain trait), during pregnancy (i.e. if an abnormality is noted on an ultrasound or if the woman will be over 35 at delivery), after birth (if a birth defect is seen), during childhood (i.e. if the child has developmental delay), or even adulthood (for adult onset genetic conditions such as huntington's disease or hereditary cancer syndromes).
In certain circles, premarital genetic testing is already a fact of life, i.e. in West-Africans from countries with a high occurrence of sickle-cell anemia, and in Jews of Eastern-European Ashkenazi background (e.g. Tay-Sachs disease, see also Dor Yeshorim).
A genetic counselor is a health professional with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Most enter the field from a variety of disciplines, including biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health and social work.
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 risks 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 genetic counseling.
- National Society of Genetic Counselors (http://www.nsgc.org)