What is an intake session in therapy?

What a counselor does for an intake session begins before we even sit down with our new client. Our work begins with the client’s first contact, including when they schedule their session. From our first interaction with a client, our actions can influence the development of our anticipated therapeutic relationship. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the language we use on social media accounts, practice sites, and in all our communications with potential clients.

Reception sessions take place during the first meeting of a specialist with a client. Depending on the environment in which you work, intake interviews may be completed by different mental health professionals. The main purpose of the intake session is to gather information to build an effective treatment plan. With the information gathered, we should be able to make a formal treatment recommendation and make a clinical diagnosis. This may sound like a simple task; however, it takes time to find your groove when conducting admissions session interviews.

With the amount of information covered in an admissions interview session, it may seem scripted or unnatural to Counselors. You will not be able to ask questions or use answers that you normally use in sessions. Being mindful of our time management allows us to respect our client’s time and our dedicated session. Read on to learn about effective intake sessions for new clients in your therapy practice.

Preparation before the First Session

Intake sessions can often be businesslike, even unnatural, due to the amount of data we want to collect. Organizing yourself before a session can help you when you start an acceptance therapy session. Using our own coping skills can be helpful when we feel distracted or anxious, such as deep breathing.

You can use this time to gather the required documents, including forms discussing confidentiality, your professional disclosure, informed consent, and any other consents that may be needed, including from other professionals such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Taking the time to review the client forms you collect before the session can help you develop a road map for how to conduct the intake assessment. For example, you may find that they have no serious medical concerns or risks, but they have a history of childhood neglect. Once you learn this, you may choose to focus more on your client’s childhood, family relationships, history of neglect, and other trauma-related concerns rather than spending unnecessary time examining their physical health.

It can be helpful to write notes to yourself about questions you want to ask or reminders about topics you want to explore more. Some counselors are comfortable with a formal intake assessment form with spaces where you can write the client’s response, while others prefer to use a vague outline or no outline to take notes as the conversation progresses. It’s worth trying a few options to see which one works best for you.

Commencement of Reception Session

When you start your session with a new client, you can start by introducing yourself and giving them a brief summary of what to expect in your session. If your admissions documents do not include their chosen name and pronouns, this would be a good time to ask for these details. Now you can move on to discussing privacy and other documents you prepared before the session. When reviewing these documents, it is important that you take your time and allow the client to digest the information you are providing. You can follow up by asking if you can clarify anything or if you have any questions.

During the intake session interview, you begin to establish the foundation of your therapeutic relationship. Being warm, welcoming, polite, caring, and compassionate are all traits that can help your client feel comfortable in the room with you. Our body language can also affect our customers’ feelings. With most intake therapy session notes kept electronically, it can be tempting to sit down and enter the client’s responses into our notes as the session progresses. However, paying attention to how we sit, face our client, use eye contact, and other forms of body language can reduce the interview-like feeling and help our clients feel at ease.

The process of your onboarding interview may vary from client to client and may depend on the circumstances in which you work. For example, an intake session for a child will look significantly different than one for an adult. Usage a a form of child acceptance therapy can help provide guidance when meeting with a child. Forms like these can give you the appropriate release consent in addition to the instructions they provide for moving forward with your intake session.

If you are wondering what to bring to your clinic appointment during your first session of therapy, you may want to explore the following topics:

  • Medical history including diagnoses and medications
  • Mental Health History, including diagnoses and medications
  • Any previous treatment episodes
  • Family, friends and other important relationships in their lives
  • School and work history
  • History of substance use and abuse, including current use
  • What attracts them to consulting?
  • Any symptoms they are currently experiencing and their severity
  • What they hope to gain from counseling

The areas mentioned above can feel like a lot of ground to cover. Reviewing the information you receive before the session can help guide this process. Depending on your work environment and the population you are working with, you may split the information covered into two intake interview sessions.

Closing the Reception Session

As you near the end of your acceptance therapy session, you can begin by summarizing the information you discussed. This can give your client an opportunity to clarify any details they feel are missing and to add information they may have forgotten to share before. It also allows Consultants to ensure they are correctly understanding and interpreting the information being shared.

As you begin to wrap up your session, you will want to inform the client if you have reached a clinical diagnosis. If not, do not worry, it is better to make an accurate diagnosis than to make a quick diagnosis. If so, this is important information to share with the client as it can be used to help them make an informed decision about their mental health treatment.

You will then discuss whether you are qualified to work with this client. While consultants have the training and experience, there are times when we simply don’t have the skills to handle it, and that’s okay! It is important to consider our own limitations and put the client’s best interests first. If a client needs to be referred to another Consultant, it is important to discuss this referral and provide the client with relevant information such as contact information.

Alternatively, if you can continue to work with this person, you can begin developing their treatment plan together. This may include the frequency of their sessions and other forms of therapy you would like them to participate in. You can discuss your cancellation and rescheduling policy, service fees, and the best ways to contact you.

Based on the information you gather during the assessment, there may be some homework you want your client to try before the next session. This may involve using new coping skills or connecting with supportive people in their lives.

You can develop a crisis plan that can be used if the client is in trouble. This can include identifying healthy coping skills, supports they can contact, and numbers like crisis hotlines and 911 for help. In addition, you can discuss situations where you need to contact their emergency contact.

Final Thoughts on Conducting a Great Acceptance Session in Therapy

Thank you for reading our resource on conducting an acceptance therapy session. For early career counselors and those looking to improve their intake therapy sessions a consultation form may be useful. Therapy By Pro is an example of a resource available to counselors that offers helpful forms that can improve our intake assessment skills. This template can be used to guide you in exploring the client’s concerns, symptoms, and other related areas of interest. In addition, it may provide you with consent templates.

If you reach the end of your session and you are not sure what your treatment recommendation is, if you are not sure if you would be a good fit for their needs or the diagnosis you are considering, take the time to consult with the supervisor. It’s better to step aside and discuss your ideas with your supervisor than to start a treatment plan that doesn’t fit your client’s needs.

If you feel you could improve your interviewing skills, you can take control. Talk to your supervisor about your concerns and see what feedback they can provide for you. You can observe one of their admission interviews or one of your colleagues. Watching others can help us learn new tricks and ways to navigate admissions interviews.

Conducting admissions interview sessions comes more naturally as we begin to feel more comfortable with them. This comes with time and experience. By being patient with ourselves, we can give ourselves the time we need to grow professionally.

TherapyByPro is a program online mental health directory connecting mental health professionals with clients in need. If you are a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your experience listing here. We have templates for assessments, practice forms, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use to facilitate their practice. Look at all of us mental health forms, worksheet and assessments here.

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