Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


Genetic Counseling

First Advisor

Robert G. Best


Psychiatric conditions have long been established as highly heritable. Current research is investigating susceptibility genes, the possibility of predictive testing, and specific genetic differences that influence drug response. To effectively integrate psychiatric genetics into clinical practice, mental health professionals should be able to understand and confidently interpret current genetic and genomic research.

PURPOSE: Identify areas where mental health professionals lack confidence in their knowledge of basic genetic concepts, risk assessment, and current research in psychiatric genetics. Identify educational needs within the mental health field related to genetics and propose new ways to meet those needs.

RESULTS: Seventy-four mental health professionals, including 19 psychiatrists, 38 clinical psychologists, and 17 non-clinical psychologists completed the survey. Both psychiatrists (100%) and psychologists (82%) agreed that genetics play a significant role in the development of mental illness. Higher levels of confidence were reported by both groups when asked about their general ability to discuss genetics than when asked about specific tasks for integrating genetics into practice, and about their knowledge of current research or specific genetic conditions. Psychiatrists were significantly more confident when asked about Huntington disease than were psychologists. Among eight other mental health conditions, both groups were most confident when asked about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Respondents were slightly less confident when asked about anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and alcoholism and indicated the lowest levels of confidence in autism and ADHD.

CONCLUSION: The results of this study suggest that mental health professionals view the genetics of psychiatric illness as clinically important and are actively discussing these issues with their patients. Areas where mental health professionals lack confidence are identified and a possible role for genetics professionals in the education of these practitioners is proposed.


© 2010, Margaret Anne Horton