Genetic counselor and proxy patient perceptions of genetic counselor responses to prenatal patient self-disclosure requests: Skillfulness is in the eye of the beholder

Veronica Greve, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
Patricia Mc Carthy Veach, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Bonnie S. LeRoy, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Ian M. MacFarlane, Elizabethtown College
Krista Redlinger-Grosse, University of Minnesota Twin Cities


Research demonstrates some genetic counselors self-disclose while others do not when patients’ request self-disclosure. Limited psychotherapy research suggests skillfulness matters more than type of counselor response. This survey research assessed perceived skillfulness of genetic counselor self-disclosures and non-disclosures. Genetic counselors (n = 147) and proxy patients, women from the public (n = 201), read a hypothetical prenatal genetic counseling scenario and different counselor responses to the patient's question, What would you do if you were me? Participants were randomized either to a self-disclosure study (Study 1) or non-disclosure study (Study 2) and, respectively, rated the skillfulness of five personal disclosures and five professional disclosures or five decline to disclose and five redirecting non-disclosures. Counselor responses in both studies varied by intention (corrective, guiding, interpretive, literal, or reassuring). Participants also described what they thought made a response skillful. A three-way mixed ANOVA in both studies analyzed skillfulness ratings as a function of sample (proxy patient, genetic counselor), response type (personal, professional self-disclosure, or redirecting, declining non-disclosure), and response intention. Both studies found a significant three-way interaction and strong main effect for response intention. Responses rated highest in skillfulness by both genetic counselors and proxy patients in Study 1 were a guiding personal self-disclosure and a personal reassuring self-disclosure. The response rated highest in skillfulness by both samples in Study 2 was a redirecting non-disclosure with a reassuring intention. Proxy patients in both studies rated all literal responses as more skillful than genetic counselors. Participants’ commonly described a skillful response as offering guidance and/or reassurance. Counselor intentions and response type appear to influence perceptions, and counselors and patients may not always agree in their perceptions. Consistent with models of practice (e.g., Reciprocal-Engagement Model), genetic counselors generally should aim to convey support and guidance in their responses to prenatal patient self-disclosure requests.