As a genetic counselor who specializes in psychiatric illnesses and addictions, I help people understand what we know about how our experiences and our genetics work together to cause illness. During a genetic counseling session, we work through any guilt, fear or stigma people may be feeling about the causes of their illness, and discuss how they might be able to protect their mental health for the future.
Genetic counselors might also be able to help people engage in behavior changes to reduce their risk for common diseases. In the video below from an event at the University of British Columbia, I share the story of a patient, “Jane,” who came to see me because she was worried about her daughter’s chance of developing bipolar disorder. During the course of the counseling session, I turned Jane’s understanding of the cause of bipolar disorder upside down, and this affected her deeply in an emotional way. We talked together about causes and treatments. Afterwards, Jane was able to start engaging in a number of new activities that she found really helped her mental health.
In the video, I suggest that genetic counseling could be similarly helpful for people with other kinds of conditions, too. It can play a large role in conditions like heart disease or diabetes - conditions where behavior changes are difficult to make, but can help people to reduce their risk for illness.
If you think you could benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor, you can find one in your area by using NSGC’s “Find a Genetic Counselor” tool.
Jehannine Austin, Ph.D., CGC is immediate past president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors and is an associate professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.