Genetic Counseling A Novel Career Option for those in Pursuit of a Master of Science in Psychology

Genetic counseling, a rapidly growing profession, is what some might call a hybrid career. Genetic counselors enter the profession through any number of backgrounds, including biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health, and social work and hold a wide variety of degrees, such as a Master of Science in Psychology or a Master of Science in Social and Community Service. In short, a genetic counselor is half scientist and half counselor.

What Does a Genetic Counselor Do?

After earning a Master of Science in Psychology, a Master of Science in Social and Community Service, or a degree in another appropriate discipline, a genetic counselor usually works as a healthcare professional. Families with a birth defect or genetic abnormality in their history will often seek the services of a genetic counselor for advice concerning the risks of conceiving children. Genetic counselors may also provide information and support for patients at risk of inheriting a genetic disease. Scientific testing can determine whether the disease is present, and the genetic counselor can then interpret the results for the patient and provide support as needed.

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Prenatal Genetic Counseling

One of the most common reasons patients will seek out the services of a genetic counselor with a Master of Science in Psychology or a Master of Science in Social and Community Service is to undergo testing for an unborn child. Again, scientific testing screens the genes of the fetus for any genetic abnormalities, such as Down’s Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, and Huntington’s Disease. The genetic counselor is responsible for explaining the results to the parents and helping them decide the appropriate course of action when necessary. If the news is bad, the genetic counselor can direct the family to appropriate community resources and offer counseling support.

Genetic Counseling for Adult-Onset Diseases

Another reason patients seek out a genetic counselor is to find out if a genetic condition or a genetic susceptibility to a disease exists that will later emerge in adulthood. The genetic counselor can first help the patient decide whether to be tested at all. In cases where the risk of an incurable disease is high, it can be best not to find out depending on the patient’s preferences and ethical principles. As public awareness of genetic testing increases, the genetic counselor must also be able to explain the concept of genetic susceptibility. Catherine Wicklund, MS, a genetic counselor in the OB/GYN department of the University of Texas Medical School, notes that just because a person is susceptible to a disease, such as Adult-Onset Diabetes, it does not mean that such a person is 100% certain to suffer from the condition.

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Steps to Pursuing a Career as a Genetic Counselor

Students who wish to pursue a career in genetic counseling must first be certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. They must also earn a master’s degree in an appropriate discipline. Common degrees include a Master of Science in Psychology or a Master of Science in Social and Community Service. Many aspiring professionals are now choosing to enter distance education programs such as those designed by Capella University. The convenience and sophistication of numerous, innovative distance education programs are allowing students to access quality training anytime and anyplace.

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