The world’s first psychiatric genetic counseling clinic is open in Vancouver, and it’s helping to clear misconceptions about the roots of mental illness and how to use genetic information to protect mental health.

Genetic counseling is an approach to mental wellness that helps people to better understand and manage their illness, while also promoting recovery.

“Fundamentally, genetic counseling is about helping people to better understand what we know from research about the causes of a condition that is running in a family, and about providing support and counseling to help people to feel more empowered in managing that condition,” says Dr. Jehannine Austin, a genetic counselor, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in the UBC Departments of Psychiatry and Medical Genetics, and investigator with the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and the BC Mental Health and Addictions Research Institute.

A common misconception about genetic counseling is that it’s only meant for people of reproductive age. “Pregnancy-related concerns represent only a tiny fraction of the types of people that genetic counseling can help,” says Dr. Austin. Indeed, it can be helpful and empowering to men and women of all ages, and their families – for many people living with a (or affected by a loved one’s) psychiatric diagnosis, genetic counseling can be transformative.

Since launching the psychiatric genetic counseling clinic in 2012, counselors at Dr. Austin’s clinic have helped more than 400 families from across British Columbia. A hub for education and training, the clinic provides some of the best genetic counseling services in the world, here in BC. “Our training program has been very successful,” says Dr. Austin. “Psychiatric genetic counseling services are being established in the US, UK, and Germany, all modeled after our Vancouver clinic.”

“Our goal is to continue to refine the services we provide based on high quality research findings, and to establish genetic counseling as a standard service for people with psychiatric disorders and their families around the world.”

Update (March 23, 2015): The Psychiatric Genetic Counselling Clinic has been selected as a finalist in the #YourEvolution competition. Register online to submit your vote by April 10, 2015! The shortlisted project with the most votes by 11:59 pm on April 10 wins a social entrepreneur support kit to provide mentorship, promotion, and support.

To support Dr. Austin’s psychiatric genetic counseling clinic and training programs, visit and sign in to vote for this project. For more information, visit the clinic website and connect with Dr. Austin on Twitter.