The Counseling Intake Process & Initial Interview

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  • 0:07 Intake & Consent
  • 2:50 Interview
  • 3:49 Tests & Diagnosis
  • 6:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

We will look at the counseling intake process as a person who is entering in counseling. Each step will be explained by a process we are all familiar with: medical doctor's office visits.

Intake and Consent

Since almost everyone has gone to a medical doctor - and some of us more than others - there is a certain level of familiarity with the process. When I said some of us, I meant me since I've had a large infection on my arm due to my cat. But back to the topic at hand, the process of seeing a counselor and a medical doctor is very similar.

First off, after entering the office, you will be asked to fill out a whole bunch of forms. These will be a mix of forms dealing with things like who you are, your address, your insurance, and your emergency contact. You'd think that last one wouldn't be necessary, but I've seen three seizures in the last year at a moderately sized counseling center. It's good to have a name on file.

The next part of the forms will be a general checklist of symptoms. The purpose of this is twofold. The first is to make an easy reference guide for the counselor when you meet with him or her, but more on this in a moment. The second reason is to make you, as a client, consider these common problem areas that may also have stuff going on. The general checklist would include but is not limited to:

  • How often do you feel sad?
  • How much do you sleep at night?
  • What stresses do you have?
  • What brings you in for counseling?

After completing your forms, you will sit, wait, and eventually get called back to the see the counselor. The counselor will take your filled-out forms and set them aside. There will now be more forms to fill out, but these ones are even more important than the previous ones.

These forms, the important ones, are informed consent, which provide the clients with sufficiently detailed information on counseling and its risks so that they can make an informed, voluntary, and rational decision to participate. What kind of risks can a client encounter? Depending on what type of counseling you do, you can run the risk of exposing hidden trauma that has been buried deep and almost forgotten. Or you may inform someone that has a serious mental illness that they may never be able to perform the job they want. Does it always come to this? No, but informed consent is written into the ethical code in case something like this does happen.

The process of informed consent typically involves the counselor explaining the process and the risks associated with counseling. The counselor may have this information written down on a form for the patient to sign. Counselors do this to cover their bases since this is an overly litigious society where there may be lawsuits, and if the counselor doesn't have a paper trail, then he or she could be in a whole heap of trouble.


Now we have the basics out of the way. You've filled out your paperwork, and now we can begin the initial interview. The classic line is, 'So what brings you in today?' but there is another option. A counselor has the paperwork that you filled out earlier - remember the one I said would be discussed again? This is where the counselor can pull up your paperwork and look through it. Again, nothing different here than if you were to go see a medical doctor.

The initial interview is the first stepping stone. This is where the client explains what brings them in and why his or her problem is a concern. The counselor takes in this information as the client presents it and asks questions for clarification. It is important here that the counselor give his or her full, undivided attention to the client. This is where the foundation of rapport is built, which is a close relationship of trust. Without rapport, you can't effectively counsel someone because people don't like to listen or talk to other people they don't trust.

Tests and Diagnosis

During the interview, the counselor may come to the conclusion that some kind of testing is necessary. Testing is defined as collecting information to analyze and evaluate a client to identify problems, plan for treatment, and aid in diagnosing. Tests usually take the form of paper and pencil tests that use your answers to compare you with others.

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