Defining orienting language in the genetic counseling process

Katherine E. Cook, Bonnie J. Baty, Karin M. Dent, Kimberly A. Kaphingst, Lori H. Erby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We defined orienting language in genetic counseling sessions as ‘language intended to direct focus to a particular aspect of the counseling process; a physical, emotional, or cognitive space; or an outcome’. This is a concept expanding on the idea of ‘orientation’ statements in the genetic counseling literature. We propose that orienting language is an important component of effective communication in the genetic counseling process. Our goals were to document the presence of orienting language in genetic counseling sessions with practicing genetic counselors and simulated clients, categorize types of orienting language, and evaluate the purpose of this language. A sample of Genetic Counseling Video Project videotape transcripts was evaluated through consensus coding for orienting language. Orienting language was found to be abundant in the dataset evaluated. Each excerpt was coded for orienting language Strategies and Purpose. The six categories of Strategy codes identified were Logical Consistency, Providing Context, Guidance, Structuring the Session, Anchoring, and Procedural. The six categories of Purpose codes were Counselee Understanding, Guidance, Engagement, Promoting Effective Counselor/Counselee Interactions, Counselee Adaptation, and Relationship Building. Results support our expanded definition of orienting language, which was similar in both cancer and prenatal specialties and across years of counselor experience. Orienting language acts as a series of signposts to help clients navigate the sometimes complex and unfamiliar territory of a genetic counseling session. The introduction of this term into the genetic counseling literature allows its use by genetic counselors to be further evaluated and potentially incorporated into genetic counselor training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-697
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • communication
  • comprehension
  • counseling techniques
  • education
  • genetic counseling
  • orienting language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)


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