Communication in Genetic Counseling: Cognitive and Emotional Processing

Lee Ellington, Kimberly M. Kelly, Maija Reblin, Seth Latimer, Debra Roter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The profession of genetic counseling has received limited guidance from theoretical models in how to communicate complex health information so that clients can actively use the information. In this study of a national sample of 145 genetic counselors conducting sessions with simulated clients, we apply two different approaches for analyzing and describing verbal health communication. The Roter interaction analysis system (RIAS) and linguistic inquiry word count (LIWC) were used to identify evidence of communication behaviors consistent with tenets of the social cognitive processing model (SCPM). These tools revealed descriptive evidence of counselor facilitation of client emotional processing and, to a lesser extent, facilitation of client cognitive processing and understanding. Conversely, descriptive analysis of client communication revealed evidence of cognitive processing, but less affective processing. Second, we assessed whether genetic counselor facilitative communication predicted simulated client responses consistent with the cognitive and emotional processing inherent in SCPM. These analyses revealed that counselor attempts to promote emotional expression and client insight were positively associated with client word usage indicative of expression of negative affect and cognitive processing. This study is the first to our knowledge to apply RIAS and LIWC in tandem and gives us a description of current practices within genetic counseling within a theoretical framework. Additionally, it provides suggestions for education and communication goals to improve providers' responses to patient emotions as well as skills to engender patient understanding and personal meaning-making of complex medical information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-675
Number of pages9
JournalHealth communication
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


Dive into the research topics of 'Communication in Genetic Counseling: Cognitive and Emotional Processing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this