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

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Published Date|
June 8, 2022

What's the Difference Between an Intake Session and a Free Consultation in Therapy?

While trying to find a therapist in Toronto, you may have noticed that different therapy clinics have different processes to get you started. From free consultations to intake sessions, the variety can be confusing and make it hard to know which choice is right for you.

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.

You might be wondering what the point of an intake session is, if you should choose a consultation instead, and whether you should have to pay.

To help answer these questions, this article will explore:

  • What a therapy intake session is
  • What a free therapy consultation is
  • The advantages and disadvantages of each
  • Three ways to choose which one is best for you

By the end of this article, you’ll know how to choose between attending an intake session or a free consultation.

What is a Therapy Intake Session?

An intake session is typically the first introductory session when starting therapy, or attending a new psychotherapy or counselling practice. It is designed 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, the issues you're facing, 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 you to preview the therapy practice, the people, and the process before deciding to start sharing your personal information.

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 you're facing and goals you want to achieve in order to match you with the best possible long-term therapist for you.

You’ll leave your intake session with:

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

What are the Disadvantages of an Intake Session?

You might find it difficult to disclose issues for the first time with an intake therapist and then repeat them a second time with your 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 your time and money before the real therapy even starts. While intake sessions are covered under most insurance plans as "psychological services," they might not be the right choice if you have limited insurance or you're paying out-of-pocket.

It is normal for therapy practices to charge anywhere from $100 to $300 for a standard intake session.

What is a Free 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.

You might also have phone conversation with your potential therapist or a Zoom call if it's more convenient than going to their office.

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 your time, money, and energy, it can take a while to find a therapist who is right for you. 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. You don't need to share your story and challenges with someone who won't be your long-term therapist - you can get a feel on whether they'll be a good match for you before diving into details.


What are the Disadvantages of a Free Consultation?

15 minutes can feel short if you have a lot on your mind and want to go into details about what you're facing before committing to therapy. You might feel disappointed that you didn't have the time to discuss your problems at length.

Also, 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. Instead, this will happen in your first session with your therapist.

What are the Main Difference Between an Intake Session and a Free Consultation?

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

intake sessions vs free consultations therapy

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 intake 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 support in finding the best therapist for you and you would like to leave the intake session with a detailed plan for what to expect from the rest of therapy.

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 would rather meet a few therapists before deciding on which one is right for you, you don't want to talk to more than one therapist, and you'd like to confirm a therapist is a good fit before diving into personal issues.

3 Questions to Help You Choose Between a Free Consultation and an Intake Session

Both free consultations and paid intake sessions are common for psychotherapists, psychologists, and counsellors in the province of Ontario. So how can you choose which is the right fit 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.

1. What is your budget? 

How much money do you have to spend on therapy? Therapy can be costly, and a paid intake session adds to that cost.

If you have a limited budget or your insurance plan only covers a few sessions, a free consultation may be a better fit.

If you have more insurance coverage or a larger budget, investing in an intake session can be a great option.

2. How much support do you want when choosing a therapist?

When researching options for a therapist, do you find it easy to figure out who could be the right fit? Or would you rather have more support when being matched with a therapist?

If you enjoy deciding which therapist you want to see based on their websites, profile, and online presence, having a free consultation with them can be a great choice.

If you have a few therapy practices you like but you're not sure how to know which therapist will be right for you, an intake session can be a great way to find your ideal match.

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

Therapy practices in Ontario offer intake sessions and free consultations depending on what works for them - and you can have a successful therapy journey with either option.

You might not have a huge preference for how you begin therapy - you might just choose the practice or therapist that feels right for you and go through whichever process they offer.

Don't be afraid to try out a new method - you might really enjoy it!

Next Steps for Beginning Therapy

After reading this article, you know there are a wide variety of ways a therapist can begin their journey with you.

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 and empowered to get the support you deserve.

If you'd like to learn more about having an intake session at KMA Therapy, register online to connect with our team. You can also download our Therapy 101 Guide for detailed answers to all your questions about therapy.

If you'd prefer to keep reading, explore these articles:

About the Author

Kimberly is the founder of KMA Therapy and one of Canada's most experienced media relationship experts. She received her doctoral degree in Counselling Psychology in 2015 at Middlesex University, where her doctoral research studied the emotional psychology of entrepreneurs. She also has a Masters Degree in Music Therapy from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Guelph.

Author |
Kimberly Moffit
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