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Frequently asked questions

View answers to common questions, such as what happens during a genetic counseling appointment and more.

Frequently asked questions

View answers to common questions, such as what happens during a genetic counseling appointment and more.

Learn more about genetic counseling


What is a genetic counselor?

A genetic counselor is a healthcare professional with specialized training in genetics and counseling. A genetic counselor is important if you are considering or have had genetic testing. Before testing, our genetic counselors will help you understand your genetic health, based on personal and family health history. We help you decide if genetic testing is the right choice for you, and if so, recommend appropriate tests. Following testing, our genetic counselors will help you understand and process the results of genetic testing in order to make informed healthcare decisions.

Why would I need genetic counseling?

You may benefit from genetic counseling if you:

  • Have a family history of a genetic condition and would like to know your risk or your children’s risk
  • Were recently diagnosed with a genetic condition, or your healthcare provider is seeking to assess if you have an undiagnosed condition that may be genetic
  • Have a child or family member recently diagnosed with a genetic condition
  • Are planning to get pregnant or are having difficulty getting pregnant
  • Have received abnormal results from a routine pregnancy screening
  • Would like to learn more about screening options for diseases that are more common in certain ethnic groups
  • Have received genetic testing from a in-home testing service and want to understand the results
What is a genetic condition?

Genetics plays a part in most health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. However, some health conditions have a higher genetic risk than others. Genetic testing and a family history risk assessment can determine if a person has an increased risk of developing a condition, or passing that risk onto their children. A genetic counselor can help you understand your genetic risk by reviewing your family health history, and determine if a genetic test may be helpful for you or a family member.

Genetic factors can also influence how people respond to medications, shed light on ancestry, and help people understand some traits, such as certain dietary preferences, physical traits, and personality characteristics.

How is genetic counseling different from genetic testing?

A certified genetic counselor has extensive training to help you understand how your family and personal health history may increase your risk or your children’s risk. A genetic counselor will gather your information, recommend which tests will be the most helpful for you, and interpret your results so you can make healthcare decisions that are right for you.

There are thousands of genetic tests available today, and more are continually added as research discovers new links between genetics and disease. You want to be sure that the testing is based on your unique family and personal history.

For example, some at-home genetic tests are intended for a broad population, so they may not provide information specific to your distinct family history. These tests may or may not not give you an accurate picture of your risk. Other tests are so specialized they are very expensive. You want to be sure that tests that are recommended and ordered on your behalf are cost-effective and helpful for your situation.

What kind of training and certification do your genetic counselors receive?

Our genetic counselors receive specialized training in medical genetics and counseling through master’s degree programs recognized by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

To be certified, a counselor must pass an exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling, and some states require an additional license to practice. All GeneMatters’ genetic counselors are certified and, if applicable, licensed in the states where they provide services.

Do you have a genetic counselor in my area?

GeneMatters has a network of genetic counselors and can provide counseling to every state in the United States and in Canada. We can provide counseling through convenient telephone-based appointments that meet your schedule.

How do I schedule an appointment with a GeneMatters genetic counselor?

There are two ways to schedule an appointment:

  1. Your physician may have recommended or arranged an appointment for you with us. If so, follow the instructions from your physician.
  2. If you are not working with a physician to receive genetic counseling, you can also create an account directly and schedule an appointment. Simply follow the instructions to provide your health history information and schedule your appointment. In either case, you will be matched with a counselor with expertise in your area of interest and who is licensed to practice in your state.
What information do I need to provide before an appointment?

When you schedule an appointment on the GeneMatters website, you will provide answers to questions about your medical and family history. Next, you will select a convenient time and date for your personalized telephone session. If you have had genetic testing already performed, you will also be able to provide your results to the counselor prior to your appointment.

Before your appointment, you may want to prepare a list of questions and concerns so your counselor can focus on those.

It’s important for your genetic counselor to have a complete picture of your family history. Before your appointment, try to gather as much of this information as possible from your family members and obtain any relevant medical records.

Examples include:

  • Your (and your partner’s) ancestry and ethnic history
  • Information about current and past pregnancies
  • Your (and your partner’s) medical and health history, including major illnesses, chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, and medications
  • Health history of blood relatives, including children, siblings, half-siblings and their children, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents
What happens during a genetic counseling appointment?

To prepare for your appointment, our genetic counselor will review your family and medical history to create a detailed family tree of medical information (called a pedigree). During your appointment, one of our counselors will review this information with you and discuss your (or your child’s) risk of those conditions. You will have time to ask any questions and discuss concerns you have.

If applicable, the counselor may review options for genetic testing or screening and help you understand potential next steps, such as which tests are recommended to be ordered. If you are speaking to one of our counselors after you have already had genetic testing, the counselor will help you understand your results, and discuss potential next steps to manage your health.

Will GeneMatters order a genetic test for me?

No, we provide recommendations for types of testing, but we do not order tests. Because we are an independent genetic counseling service, you can be assured that our recommendations are offered without bias and we will not recommend unnecessary tests. If genetic testing is recommended in your summary report, GeneMatters’ genetic counselors will provide a recommendation that a healthcare provider can use to order testing on your behalf.

Can GeneMatters help me understand the genetic test results?

Yes, our genetic counselors can help at any stage in the process of understanding your genetic information and how it impacts your health.

How do I pay for your services?

If your physician’s office arranged for your appointment, they will provide the cost and may provide a referral code. If you are scheduling directly with us, you may pay using a credit card or debit card. If you would like to pay using your HSA or FSA, please check with your account provider to see if genetic counseling services are listed as a qualified medical expense. We have priced our services reasonably, so that cost is not a barrier for those seeking genetic counseling.