Genetic counselors routinely engage with patients and families who grapple with questions of meaning while making decisions about genetic risk (Biesecker, 2001). Research and theory demonstrate genetic counselors gain important personal insights through their work (Runyon et al., 2010) and grow professionally from self-reflective practice regarding their beliefs and values (Zahm, 2009, 2010). Data are lacking, however, about the nature of the meaning genetic counselors bring to the profession and how they directly experience and/or navigate issues of meaning within clinical practice over time. Accordingly, a national sample (N=298) of practicing genetic counselors completed a survey assessing demographic characteristics and willingness to participate in a semi-structured telephone interview exploring their views on meaning as they relate to their clinical work and professional development. Sixty-eight individuals of varied experience levels were interviewed about: 1) how they define a meaningful life for themselves; 2) lifetime sources of influence on their sense of meaning; 3) work-related contexts that reaffirm their sense of meaning; 4) work-related contexts that challenge their sense of meaning; 5) how their sense of meaning has changed over time; and 6) reasons for participating in this study. Twenty-five interviews were analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research methods (Hill, 2012); data saturation was reached at that point. Thirty-six thematic domains and 31 categories were extracted. Common themes included: importance of satisfying relationships; helping others; personal fulfillment; personal and patient experiences of illness and loss; religious and/or spiritual foundations; value conflicts; competing obligations; challenges to meaning; development of empathy; resiliency; and increased humility. Results suggest the importance of professional venues for discussions of meaning (e.g., genetic counseling program curricula, continuing education, and peer supervision/consultation). Additional findings, illustrative examples, and practice implications and research recommendations are presented.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2014. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisor: Patricia McCarthy Veach. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 184 pages.
Development, Experience and Expression of Meaning in Genetic Counselors' Lives: An Exploratory Analysis.
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