Effects of Genetic Counselor Self-Disclosure: an Experimental Analog Study

  • Brianna Volz
  • Kathleen D. Valverde
  • Steven J. RobbinsEmail author
Original Research


The complex nature of self-disclosure poses challenges for genetic counselors in clinical practice. We examined the impact of genetic counselor self-disclosure on observer perceptions of the counselor. In an online analog study, 123 participants watched a 3-minute video of a simulated genetic counseling session. For half the participants, the video showed the counselor disclosing that she had a family medical history similar to the patient (direct personal disclosure). For half the participants, the counselor revealed her experience with other patients (direct professional disclosure). Half the participants in each video condition read that the patient had discovered personal information about the counselor during a pre-session web search (indirect personal disclosure); half read that the patient learned of the counselor’s FAQ webpage for prospective patients (indirect professional disclosure). Participants in the direct personal disclosure conditions gave higher ratings to the counseling relationship on an abbreviated version of the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory and rated themselves more likely to see the counselor compared to those in the direct professional disclosure conditions. The content of the indirect disclosure conditions (personal or professional) had no effect. Brief, direct, verbal disclosure of session-relevant personal information by a genetic counselor appears to enhance the counselor-patient relationship and increase the likelihood of patients returning to the counselor.


Self-disclosure Genetic counselor self-disclosure Genetic counseling relationship Genetic counseling 



This study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Science Degree from Arcadia University by Brianna Volz. The authors would like to thank Andrea Formen and Janice McDuffy for their assistance in the production of the genetic counseling videos.

Author Contributions

All three authors contributed substantially to the conception and design of this study and approved the final version to be published. Brianna Volz was solely responsible for the acquisition of data. Brianna Volz and Steven J. Robbins were jointly responsible for the analysis and interpretation of data. Steven J. Robbins wrote the original manuscript draft and made the requested revisions. All three authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Funding Information

Financial assistance for the study was provided by the genetic counseling training program at Arcadia University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Brianna Volz, Kathleen Valverde, and Steven J. Robbins declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human Studies and Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (5). Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.

Supplementary material

10897_2018_283_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (45 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 45 kb)


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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Genetic CounselingArcadia UniversityGlensideUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyArcadia UniversityGlensideUSA

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