Psychotherapy Intake Session vs. Free Consultation: Which is Right for Me?

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Published Date|
June 8, 2022

What is a Psychotherapy Intake Session and Should I Have to Pay? 

Why do some clinics offer free consultations and others don’t?

While trying to find a therapist in Toronto, you may have noticed the variety of ways to get started. This can feel super confusing and make it hard to know where to get started.

Here are some ways that therapists start the therapy journey:

  • Some practices offer free 15-minute or 30-minute consultations, while others don’t offer this service at all 
  • Some clinics offer intake sessions, but with a fee
  • Others skip the first consultation and go straight into the actual therapy sessions

As a potential client, you may be wondering: Why do some therapists offer this free intake session/consultation while others don’t give any complimentary sessions? 

Working with KMA Therapy since 2008, I’ve seen many examples of both intake sessions and free consultations offered to clients and have personally witnessed their outcomes. Our goal for you today is to help give you all the information you need to know about what a therapy intake session is, and if you should have to pay.

To help answer this question, we’ll dive into: 

  • What a therapy intake session is 
  • The primary reasons for intake sessions
  • The reasons behind why therapists end up deciding to charge or not to charge

By the end of this article, you’ll know which option is best for you. 

What is a Therapy Intake Session?

When starting therapy, or attending a new psychotherapy or counseling practice, an intake session is typically the first introductory session. It can be designed for you to get to know your therapist, or for the intake therapist to gather important information about you to match you with the person within the practice who is the right fit for you. 

It’s a chance for you to share your story, your presenting issues, and your personal history. Even though you haven’t started formal psychotherapy yet, it can be a huge relief to finally tell someone about the issues you want to work on and be presented with a plan of action.

What are the advantages of an intake session?

Many clients and therapists find the intake session valuable - it allows the client to preview the therapy practice, the people, and the process before deciding to start diving into personal issues. 

In addition, because some organizations offer intake sessions as a way to get the best match, therapists have ample time to do a thorough review of the issues and goals the client is facing to match them to the best possible long-term therapist for them.

You’ll also usually leave your intake session with:

  • A detailed treatment plan, including the details of your assigned therapist 
  • Information on the type of therapy you’ll be embarking on
  • Your specific goals, based on the issues you’re dealing with 
  • The date of your first appointment with the therapist who is specialized in your issues

What are the disadvantages of an intake session?

Some people find it difficult to disclose issues for the first time with an intake therapist and then a second time with their new therapist. It can feel overwhelming and redundant to repeat answers to questions about yourself twice. 

Also, since full intake sessions typically require payment, it can feel like a large investment of time and money before the real therapy even starts.

Is it normal to have to pay for an intake session?

Yes, it is very normal for therapy practices to charge anywhere from $100 to $300 for a standard intake session. Therapy intake sessions are generally conducted by licensed professionals, and depending on the provider they are usually covered by your workplace insurance. 

What is a Free 15-minute or 30-minute Therapy Consultation?

Some therapy practices and therapists offer free 15-minute or 30-minute consultations. These are typically offered to determine if the fit is good between the therapist/therapy practice and the client. This is your opportunity to meet the therapist or attend the practice for the first time and understand how they work.

What are the advantages of a free consultation?

Attending a free consultation allows you to get an understanding of how a therapist or therapy practice operates without having to shell out money in advance. Since therapy can be a huge commitment of time, money, and energy, it can take a while to find a therapist who is right for you. So having the freedom to try a few therapists out without any financial commitment is a good option.

Another advantage to a free therapy consultation is that it’s typically short and doesn’t require delving into as many deeply personal issues as a longer, more goal-driven intake session would. This is ideal for clients who don’t want to repeat themselves twice and would rather simply meet the therapist to determine if there’s a match.


What are the disadvantages of a free consultation?

15 minutes can feel short for clients when issues are weighing on one’s minds. Some clients who receive a free consultation express disappointment that they weren’t able to discuss their presenting problems at length. In addition, since a thorough assessment can’t be completed in 15 minutes, you typically won’t leave the consultation with a comprehensive set of goals and a treatment plan – this will be left for the first full session.

What is the actual difference between an intake and free consultation?

The biggest departure between a therapy intake session and a free consultation is the depth of exploration of personal issues and goals. 

Intake Session

An intake session is typically longer, paid, and involves a deeper extent of exploring personal issues and setting goals. You have more time to share your story and the therapist has more time to ask questions and help you set goals for your therapy journey. This is typically a better option if you want a deeper, more thorough journey in therapy - even if it requires more work and investment in advance. 

Free Consultation

A free therapy consultation is shorter, unpaid, and involves meeting the therapist and generally seeing if you’re a match to work together. Since it’s unpaid, you don’t need to feel the pressure to commit. 

A consultation is almost like a job interview on both sides – your opportunity to decide if therapy is even right for you. This is typically a better option if you don’t feel the sense of urgency to dive into your issues right away, and would rather meet a few therapists before deciding on which one is right for you. Maybe you’re interested in shopping around for therapists but don’t want to commit to anyone just yet.

Which is better - a paid intake session or a free consultation?

Both free consultations and paid intake sessions are common for psychotherapists, psychologists, and counselors in the province of Ontario. But you might be wondering which one is better, or which one is right for you?

While there is no “one size fits all” answer for your therapy journey, here are a few helpful questions to ask yourself to determine which option might be right for you.

How long do you plan to be in therapy? 

Do you plan to be in therapy for a couple of sessions? Or do you have longer-term issues you want to work through? Knowing your capacity for time and energy can help you decide which option is right for you.

What is your budget? 

Have you allotted a budget for therapy? If your budget is small, or your workplace only covers a small amount, the free consultation may be a better fit. Do you consider psychotherapy as a long-term investment, and are you prepared to financially invest? Therapy can be costly as a whole, and a paid intake session adds to that cost. If you don’t mind, then a full intake session may be right for you. 

Are you the type of person who likes to research, plan, and “do things once and do them right?” 

If so, a full intake session with goal setting and detailed planning could be the right fit for you. 

Are you the type of person who likes to be more flexible, likes to feel things out, and doesn’t mind starting and stopping with new people? 

If so, a free consultation that doesn’t involve a huge commitment could be the right fit for you.

Are you already leaning toward a particular practice or a therapist? 

Some clients don’t have a huge preference for what kind of intake they do. Instead, they’ll simply find the practice or therapist that’s right for them and just go through the process that’s offered. If you have a feeling someone may already be right for you, it may be the right option to just see what they offer and try it out.

Should you have to pay for your first session?

It depends on the practice. 

Typically, if it’s a longer intake session with a detailed assessment, goals, and objectives, there is a fee for the session. 

And if it’s a 15 or 30-minute consultation that doesn’t involve a deep exploration of your issues, this session can be complimentary. 

In short, each practice decides what they feel is best for the type of clients they work with and their personal preferences.

So which one is right for you?

We now know there are a wide variety of ways a therapist can begin their journey with you. As a client, you have many options for choosing a therapist as well as how you can start that process. 

A therapy intake session is, whether it is a free consult or a paid session, an essential part of starting your therapy journey where you learn about the practice, the therapist, and get a sense of whether you’re comfortable.

Our process here at KMA starts with a 50-minute paid intake session. During this intake session, we go into thorough detail about the issues that you’re dealing with and what you’d like to achieve. We create a comprehensive set of goals and you’ll leave the session with a detailed treatment plan and set your first appointment with your new therapist. 

Whether you work with us, or another therapist, make sure you ask the right questions to feel comfortable so you can get the treatment you need. Learn which questions you should be asking, by reading this article about the 5 questions to ask in your intake session.

If you’re interested in booking an intake session here at KMA and starting your therapy journey with us, fill out the “Register Online” form here. Or you can book online using our online scheduler here.

Author |
Kimberly Moffit
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