Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Genetic Counseling

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Claire Singletary, MS, CGC

Committee Member

Patricia McCarthy Veach, PhD, LP

Committee Member

Chelsea Wagner, MS CGC

Committee Member

Lauren Murphy, MS, CGC

Committee Member

Jennifer Czerwinski, MS, CGC

Committee Member

Maureen Mork, MS, CGC


A personal or family medical history inherently becomes part of a genetic counselor’s life story. Yet the degree to which a counselor’s experience influences his or her specialty choice and their psychosocial practice is unexplored. A medical diagnosis may foster a counselor’s capacity for greater empathy, understanding and rapport-building self-disclosure. Conversely, it could lead to interruptive countertransference, compassion fatigue, and eventually burnout. However, research has not specifically investigated this intersection. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the impact of a genetic counselor’s personal or family medical history on his or her choice of practice area, as well as the perceived impact on their psychosocial work within sessions. Members of the National Society of Genetic Counselors were recruited to complete an anonymous online survey sent via a research recruitment email. Of the 69 survey respondents that met inclusion criteria, 23 volunteered for and completed subsequent telephone interviews. Open-ended responses to the interview questions were transcribed and analyzed by the principal investigator using inductive analysis. Interview participants were more likely to be attracted to a specialty possessing overlap with their medical history (n=15) and attributed many of their psychosocial strengths to their personal and/or family medical experience, such as increased empathy and a more expansive scope of how they cared for the patient (n=21). However, many counselors indicated that their medical histories did not frequently influence their practice, with 14 participants initially denying or downplaying use of self-disclosure. Contradictory to their assertions, the majority of participants (n=19) gave at least one example of self-disclosure, whether indirect, prompted, support-motivated, or direct. Importantly, 20 participants named or illustrated countertransference. This study highlights that while medical histories can become a positive asset in a genetic counselor’s care for patients, they require a counselor’s diligent attentiveness to honest self-reflection.


psychosocial, countertransference, medical history, story, genetic counselor



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