DOROTHY C. WERTZ
Genetic counseling is a medical service that provides relevant information about patients' genetic status and psychological and social support for individuals and families with genetic disorders. Those seeking counseling are usually referred by their physicians for one or more of the following reasons: There is a family or personal history of genetic disorder, a woman over the age of thirty-five is pregnant or considering pregnancy, the parents have a child with a genetic disorder, the woman has a history of multiple miscarriages of unknown origin, or the parents have been exposed to toxic substances. The majority are women having prenatal diagnosis for advanced maternal age, which in most industrialized countries is considered to be over the age of thirty-five. Many of the rest are parents of children with genetic conditions. Those in counseling are usually most interested in getting information that will help with reproductive decisions. Many are also interested in learning about the effect of a genetic disorder on family life, costs of raising a child with a genetic disorder, and education and treatment for the affected family member. About 70 percent of the time, those receiving counseling are a couple seen together.
Counselors may be physicians or those with doctorates, postgraduate training, or medical board certification in genetics or, in the United States and Canada, professionals with a special two-year master's degree in genetic counseling from one of twenty-seven special programs. Programs also exist in Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Most physician-counselors are pediatricians with a thorough knowledge of genetics who may or may not have clinical training in the psychosocial