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Important Questions For Therapists To Ask During An Intake Session

March 28, 2024


A therapist writing down notes on his chart while sitting across a patient during an in person consultation

Your first session with a new client is often a chance to build a rapport and establish an understanding of their key concerns. Questions for therapists to ask during an intake session can set the groundwork for gathering crucial information about the client and guiding the therapeutic process. It might take some time before a diagnosis can be made, as you may want to interpret information in future sessions to develop a plan for an appropriate course of treatment. 

In addition to asking questions from the client, it can be helpful to allow clients to feel free to ask questions and get information about their potential therapist prior to their first therapy session. This process may include the approaches or interventions used by the therapist, their education and training, and their experience addressing particular issues. This initial intake session also offers an opportunity for the therapist to share relevant resources with the client, such as links to science-backed articles on certain techniques or approaches. 

Types Of Questions To Ask In An Intake Session

In the intake session, a therapist may employ open-ended questions to garner the client’s psychological needs, physical health, and other factors affecting their mental health. Open-ended questions allow the client to express themselves authentically and can help the therapist gain insight into their concerns. 

Some yes-or-no questions may also be asked when there are only one or two response options available, like with questions about the use of medication. However, closed questions may be less conducive to openness and might appear judgmental. A therapist may also ask scaling questions, requiring the client to list their concern on a severity scale from one to 10.

Intake Interview Therapy Questions 

Some counselors choose to do an intake interview during the assessment part of the intake process. This interview enables the therapist to gather essential information about the client, such as social and family history, the reasons they seek therapy, current and past challenges in functioning, and other factors. The purpose of this interview is often twofold: It can inform the diagnosis and treatment plan for the individual client or family members and offers a chance to create rapport between the therapist and client.  

A therapist may send the intake form or questionnaire to the client beforehand, giving them time to reflect on the answers. Clients may also submit answers before their initial session. In some cases, questions may be asked on the phone or through an initial video-conferencing consultation. 

These questions may include:

  • Have you ever seen a therapist?
  • What have you found helpful or harmful in past counseling sessions? 
  • What brings you to therapy at this moment in time?

Questions may also be elaborated on during the interview. Reminding the client that this session will be unlike a regular therapy session may help put them at ease. While most therapists may word and tailor their questions to fit their approach and style, common therapy questions may include the following. 

A smiling man wearing yellow shirt seated at a table while writing on his notebook during a virtual consultation

Below are questions that gauge the client’s previous therapy experience, views about therapy, and goals for therapy:

  • What leads you to seek therapy now?
  • What do you hope to get from therapy?
  • If you’ve been to therapy before, how was that experience? 
  • What would you like to work on? What are your main concerns?
  • What did you find helpful or harmful about therapy in the past? 

Below are questions that gauge the client’s mood, symptoms, present concerns, and coping strategies:

  • How have you been feeling lately? How often do you feel this way? 
  • What are your most distressing symptoms?  
  • How would you describe your mood?
  • How do you feel about your current situation?
  • How do you usually cope with stressful situations?
  • What have you tried to cope with this situation or problem?

Below are questions that gauge a client’s relationship with work, relationships, family, and social support:

  • How is your professional life? How do you feel about work?
  • What’s your relationship with your family like? 
  • How connected are you with the people in your life? 
  • Tell me more about the meaningful relationships in your life.
  • Let’s discuss one of your responses on the intake form. 

Other Considerations During An Intake Interview

In some cases, the standardized form of intake interviews can seem formal or daunting to clients. Being mindful of the client’s agenda and comfort level may help a therapist balance their needs with the client’s. 

The American Counseling Association’s magazine Vista examines situations where there might be a need to balance the needs of the client and the desire to have a completed intake form. They suggest that therapists consider the following: 

  • Indicators during an intake session that suggest the benefit of shifting away from the structured intake form
  • Observing non-verbal behaviors and the completion of the intake form
  • Acknowledging that showing up to the session may be an achievement in itself 

Creative Questions For Therapists 

Having a list of less conventional questions may be beneficial in creating trust, disarming the client, and building a genuine therapeutic relationship. Below are a few you might try at the first session: 

  • What are your passions? 
  • What makes you feel excited? 
  • What does a “good day” look like to you?
  • How do you get through a challenging day? 
  • Do you practice self-care? 

The exact wording in questions may be adapted to fit your approach and the client.

A lady wearing glasses sitting on a couch and waving at her computer during an online consultation

Therapists Of Different Specializations

Different questions may be asked depending on the therapist and their specialization and approach. For example, marriage and family therapists may orient questions to be solution-focused, problem-focused, or “miracle-focused” on the family members’ present situation. 

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is widely used by family therapists as an alternative to problem-focused family therapy. SFBT practitioners may aim to focus less on the causes of problems and more on clients’ strengths, past successes, exceptions to problems, resources, and desired futures. The goal is often to co-construct a plan with the client in an egalitarian, collaborative fashion.

A therapist using SFBT may ask the following questions:

  • What have you done in the past that helped your current problem?
  • Imagine that your present concern was solved. How would you feel about it, and how would your life be different? 

The Role Of Active Listening

Employing active listening skills during the intake session may help build rapport with your client. To do so, a therapist may seek to remove distractions from the room, maintain eye contact, use body posture to show interest, employ silence to encourage the client to keep talking, and reiterate and seek clarification of what the client has said to ensure comprehension. At the end of the session, the therapist may also check in with the client to see how they feel.

Therapy For Everyone, Including Mental Health Professionals

Providing therapy can be both rewarding and emotionally demanding. If you believe you could also benefit from support in navigating life’s challenges, you might consider reaching out to a therapist. An online platform like BetterHelp can match you with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or office. This convenience can be helpful when you’re pressed for time or attending in-person sessions presents a challenge. 

Online therapy may be both accessible and effective. One study comparing the effectiveness of in-person versus virtual mindfulness-based skills within healthcare curriculums found that both modalities can promote well-being. The two-year study suggests that virtual delivery of mindfulness-based skills is effective in decreasing perceived stress.


The first appointment with a client often focuses on gathering information through intake forms. Questions in an intake questionnaire, for example, may include information about the client’s reasons for seeking therapy, medical and family history, use of medication, and other questions that can facilitate the assessment process. 

During the intake session, a therapist may ask questions or further delve into answers that gauge the client’s previous therapy experience, views about therapy, and goals. As a therapist, you may ask about mood, symptoms, present concerns, coping strategies, and questions about relationships and social support. 

While the initial session is not often a typical session, it may still offer an opportunity to establish a therapeutic relationship. Creative, well-formulated questions may foster genuine interaction beyond a clinical approach.