Psychiatric genetic counseling

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Why see a psychiatric genetic counselor?

If you have a personal or family history of a psychiatric or mental health condition, the psychiatric genetic counselor will help answer questions you have about the cause of the condition and the chance it can happen again in your family. These types of conditions may include autism spectrum disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and others. If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy, the counselor will discuss the possibility of your children having a psychiatric condition, based on your personal or family health history. If you are pregnant and taking medications for a psychiatric illness, the genetic counselor can work with you and your mental health care provider to evaluate the safety of the psychiatric medication during pregnancy. In general, genetic testing is not offered during psychiatric genetic counseling sessions.

What can I do to prepare for my appointment?

To get the most out of the appointment, try to provide as much information as possible about the psychiatric conditions in your family. Try to find out about:

  • Your own mental health history and current status
  • Who in your family has or had mental health conditions
  • The name(s) of the condition(s) that run in your family, if known
  • Ages that people in your family began having symptoms and were diagnosed

What will happen during my appointment?

The genetic counseling session will probably last about an hour, and what is covered during the session will be different for each person. General things that are likely to occur during your appointment include:

  • The counselor will take a detailed family history. The more information you can gather, the better the counselor can study and share the type(s) and pattern of psychiatric conditions that may run in your family.
  • Using the family history information, the counselor will talk about the likely cause of the illness in your family. Some people are interested in talking about risks for themselves, their children, or other family members to develop the condition or related conditions.
  • The counselor will explain the cause and symptoms of the condition(s).
  • Although genetic testing is not yet available for most psychiatric conditions, the genetic counselor will explore with you how likely it is that other family members might become ill.
  • The genetic counselor may also discuss environmental risk factors in and outside of the home, what to look for in a young person at risk for the condition, and when to seek treatment.
  • The genetic counselor can help you develop strategies for dealing emotionally with the risk in your family and the uncertainty related to whether a family member will or will not become ill.