Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

A Few Key Terms

Additional terminology explained
© Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences

Before we start this week, it is worth highlighting a few key terms and how we use them in this course

Genetic/Genomic testing

Genetic testing refers to any test that looks at a gene or genes. So, for example, someone might have genetic testing for cystic fibrosis (CF). This would involve looking at the gene that causes CF (called CFTR).

Increasingly people are talking about genomic testing or whole genome testing. This means a genetic test that looks at your whole genome. In other words, at all 20,000 genes as well as the genetic code that does not contain genes called ‘non coding DNA’.


Some genetic counsellors talk about clients not patients. This reflects the connection genetic counselling has to psychotherapy. It also suggests a more even relationship and the fact that not everyone having genetic counselling is ‘affected’ or ‘unwell’. We use ‘patient’ in this course to refer to someone having genetic counselling. We have nothing against ‘client’. However, we have used patient throughout for consistency. As we go through the course we would be keen to know which term you think is best.

Mutation/Pathogenic variant/Gene faults/Alteration

What do you call a gene change that causes disease? When talking to patients there is a balance between terms that are clear but not stigmatizing.

The correct scientific name is pathogenic variant. It used to be mutation. Often genetic counsellors don’t like ‘mutation’ and find ‘pathogenic variant’ is too scientific. In this course we use genetic alteration to refer to a pathogenic variant that causes disease. Again, let us know as we go through the course what terms you think are best.

© Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences
This article is from the free online

What is Genetic Counselling?

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education