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