Genetic counselor use of self-involving responses in a clinical setting: A qualitative investigation

Iman Kashmola-Perez, Patricia McCarthy Veach, Lynn Schema, Krista Redlinger-Grosse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Self-involving responses are direct expressions of genetic counselors’ here-and-now feelings about/reactions to patients. Strategic, sparing use of self-involving responses may enhance practitioner genuineness, likeability, and trustworthiness, decrease patient anxiety, and increase patient trust and engagement. Conversely, they may threaten patients who are uncomfortable with emotional expression or confuse them about the counselor's intentions. Despite theorized benefits and risks, no study has explored genetic counselor self-involving responses. This study explored whether clinical genetic counselors use self-involving responses with their patients, reasons for doing so, and their perceptions of when and why the responses work well versus poorly. Two-hundred sixty-eight genetic counselors, invited via a National Society of Genetic Counselors e-blast, completed an online screening survey. Eighty-nine percent reported using self-involving responses with patients, and 17 were purposively selected to participate in semi-structured phone interviews. Thematic analysis yielded themes regarding potential benefits, risks, counselor factors and context, and patient factors related to using self-involving responses. Benefits include conveying counselor conditions for facilitating counseling process (e.g., genuineness, building rapport, focusing the session, and encouraging the patient to open-up), and counseling outcomes by validating decision-making. Risks of use include hindering counseling processes and outcomes by misperceiving patient feelings, boundary crossing, and being unduly directive. Factors, both from the counselor and the context of the session, include comfort with the technique, mastery of clinical skills, minimal knowledge of patient emotions, type of counseling session, and counselor practice specialty. Patient factors include prior rapport with the counselor, and patient emotionality and cultural background. Findings underscore the need for training about this technique. Future research could examine patients’ perceptions of self-involving statements and differences in self-involvement across practice specialties and counseling modalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Society of Genetic Counselors


  • counseling skills
  • counseling technique
  • counselor immediacy
  • genetic counseling
  • here-and-now
  • psychosocial counseling
  • qualitative
  • self-involving
  • self-reference


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