How a Genetic Counselor Can Help You Navigate Genetic Testing

patient talking to genetic counselor
Genetic testing can be confusing. It is a rapidly changing field with a lot of terms and concepts that the average person doesn’t encounter often in everyday life. Sometimes the implications of test results are life-changing not only for the person tested, but also for their family.  It can be challenging to navigate the testing process and prepare for any social, emotional, medical, or other implications of testing.

For some tests, this process can be chaperoned by the ordering provider, such as a physician or a nurse practitioner. However, other times you may need or prefer the help of specially trained genetics providers, called genetic counselors. Genetic counselors can guide you through the genetic testing process to ensure that you make the best decisions with respect to genetic testing for you and your family.

  Who are genetic counselors?

Genetic counselors are healthcare providers with advanced training in medical genetics and counseling. They typically work in a medical practice, and can specialize in a number of areas, like pediatrics, cancer, or prenatal genetic testing. Today, there are almost 5,000 certified genetic counselors in the United States, and many more around the world.

  How can genetic counselors help?

Genetic counselors can explain how genetics impacts disease risk for a person or their family. You may wonder: Am I at risk for a genetic condition? What are the chances of passing on a genetic condition to your children? Is my cousin at risk of developing the genetic disease that runs in your family? How do I talk to my family members about my genetic condition? These types of questions are frequently answered in genetic counseling sessions.

Genetic counselors can also help select genetic tests that are pertinent to a patient’s medical history or family history, and explain the tests’ benefits and limitations. For example, some may be worried about a family history of cancer, and wonder whether it is worthwhile to pursue genetic testing, or what tests to pursue. Genetic counselors help answer these questions, and also advise on how the test results can impact medical management. Examples may include eligibility for preventative surgeries to help prevent cancer or increased screening based on genetic test results.

  What to expect during a genetic counseling appointment

Genetic counseling typically happens before and after genetic testing. It can happen in-person at a medical clinic or over the internet, through video chat.

At a pre-test genetic counseling appointment, a counselor will go through your medical and family history, by asking some questions about three generations of your family and any conditions related to your indication for genetic testing. They’ll explain the genetic testing process and discuss the possible test results. The genetic counselor will take into account your main concerns and values in helping reach an optimal decision about testing, and provide resources for further questions. To prepare for a pre-test genetic counseling appointment, gather your family history and medical records to discuss with your genetic counselor. Write down any questions or concerns you may have to remind yourself to bring them up during the appointment.

If you choose to go through genetic testing, you can attend a post-test genetic counseling appointment or follow-up phone conversation. At these appointments, the genetic counselor can help interpret your test results, and discuss what implications it might have for you and your family.

Throughout the genetic counseling process, you can expect a genetic counselor to be empathetic to the psychological and emotional aspects of making decisions about genetic health, and help guide you without putting you under undue pressure.

  Genetic counseling at Ariel

At Ariel, our patients have the option to have pre- and post-test genetic counseling with their test through an independent 3rd party genetic counseling provider. The counseling occurs over the phone, and so is available anywhere in the United States with flexible scheduling times.

More information

For more information on genetic counseling and genetic counselors, visit and the National Society of Genetic Counselors (