Genetic Counsellors – Communicating Complex Messages

‘Ripples in a Pond’ effect

Receiving a confirmed diagnosis of a genetic condition can very often be a heavy burden to bear. The results from one genetic test can act like ripples in a pond, branching out to have an effect across a whole family of many generations.

Patients can incur feelings of guilt and fear for their children, and other family members, on top of their own anxieties about what the test result may mean for their own health and mortality.

Genetic Counsellors-Communicating Complex Messages
Dr Georgina Hall (Consultant Genetic Counsellor for the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine)

Genetic counselling, is therefore not just about imparting scientific and genetic information, but – more importantly, it’s about being able to read people to get to the heart of their psychological machinations, as well as helping patients and their respective families, come to terms and cope with the impact of a genetic diagnosis.

Genetic counsellors possess the best skills and knowledge to provide that necessary holistic patient and family care; empowering patients to tackle difficult discussions with their children and their wider family networks.

The Power of the Genetic Counsellor’s Communication Toolbox

“Communication is a fundamental element of genetic counselling practice and requires particular skill because the information being conveyed by the professional is often both complex as well as laden with potential personal and familial significance for the client/patient and his or her family”

Prof. Lauren Kerzin-Storrar

The specialist communications toolkit and high emotional intelligence held by every professional genetic counsellor, is fundamental to enabling patients and their families to make well-informed decisions about their health, further testing, and the management of their condition.

“Effective counselling requires effective communication: giving information that is relevant to a patients’ concerns, in a way that is easily understood.”

Susan Michie

Genetic counsellors unravel the complex to make it easier for patients to have difficult discussions with their families about the symptoms of a condition, screening, the future, and available services and support.

Many forms of high-quality communication skills are also required to overcome the challenges of translating complex messages across to diverse populations, and effectively navigate the psychological impact on these groups, too. Transcultural genetic counselling involves having knowledge and awareness of specific cultural perspectives that may impact the communication process; the transgender community; visually impaired clients; hard of hearing or deaf clients; people with intellectual disability; parents; children and teenagers.

More can be explored about trans-/cross-cultural counselling support in the publication: ‘Getting The Message Across’ – (Jennifer Wiggins and Prof. Anna Middleton)

Genetic counsellors possess unique skills and understanding to support and empower these complex groups, across a range of genetic disciplines and conditions, including: cancer; neurological diseases and decline; developmental delay; and progressive conditions – to name just a few.

The fourth video in our ‘Voices of Genetic Counsellors’ series, created by members of our Wellcome Genome Campus Society and Ethics Research team, and in partnership with the Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors, highlights the value of that ‘communications’ specialism – unique to genetic counsellors.

Dr Georgina Hall (Consultant Genetic Counsellor for the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine)
Dr Georgina Hall (Consultant Genetic Counsellor for the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine)

Dr Georgina Hall, a Consultant Genetic Counsellor at the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine, examines how a genetic diagnosis is more than just a test. She discusses what genetic testing actually means in terms of emotional responsibility and further decision-making.

Sharing perspectives from her work at the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine, she examines how specialist training in communications, grief and loss, as well as family systems, enable genetic counsellors to be adaptable in many complex, emotionally intense situations. She demonstrates how drawing on all these professional skills, as well as the experience of identifying patient nuances, allows genetic counsellors to effectively bring together the science and the psycho-social issues to provide vital holistic care.

Watch the video below, or visit our YouTube Channel.

Dr Georgina Hall (Consultant Genetic Counsellor for the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine), discusses the delicate interplay between genetics, science, communication, and psychology, when counselling patients and their families, about the results from a genetic test.

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