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Free therapy intake form template and best practices

Get a free therapy intake form template! And find out how to customize it so it fits your practice. We talked to nine counselors about their best practices.

Are you confused by what needs to be on your intake form when you take on a new client? 

If you search for therapy intake forms, you’ll find they’re all a little different. So how do you know what’s right for your practice?

The right intake form doesn’t just check your admin boxes. If you have a well-thought-out form, it can help you care for your clients.

First things first, we promised you a free intake form template. 

Submit your information below to get your free PDF right away. 

02_Thumbnail_therapy intake form

However, one form doesn’t fit every practice perfectly. Although you can take that template and use it “as is,” that may not be the best strategy. 

A great counseling intake form is tailored to your practice.

How do you tailor your form?

Let’s find out…

We talked to nine therapists about what works for them. 

A great therapy intake form can help you care for your clients

One purpose of an intake questionnaire is to collect the necessary information you need for your files. So… name, address, phone number, etc. 

But you can also collect information that will help direct your method of therapy. 

The information you collect on the second part of the form will be different for every therapist. That’s why it’s a bad idea to use a template as is.

It wastes an opportunity to find out valuable information that will help you relate to your clients and provide the best care.

Therapy intake form questions

Part one:

You’ll want to collect the basic information you need for your files:

  • Client name
  • Date of birth
  • Current age
  • Gender
  • Phone number/email
  • Address
  • Emergency contact
  • Insurance information (optional)
  • Primary care provider
  • Reason for referral (if relevant)
  • Medical history (physical and mental health)

According to Karyetta Walker, EdD, LCMHC, it’s important to pay attention to your state’s requirements. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a situation where you’re treating a person illegally.

“In the state of North Carolina, there are no such things as grandparents' rights,” says Dr. Walker. “So just because a grandparent has a grandchild, niece, or nephew living with them, they may not have proper documentation to say they can sign that kid up for services. And therapists often will forget to ask that question.”

You can find your state’s requirements by checking with your state board.

Also, be sure to ask the detailed questions that will help you manage your practice. For example, if you see children, ask what grade they’re in. 

“You want their school and the grade,” says Dr. Walker. “Because I need to be careful about what kind of slot I give them. For my younger kids, I typically give them early morning appointments. For those who are in middle school and high school, I try to target more afternoons. Ask for their class schedules and when they have their elective courses such as PE, Art, and Band that may not have the same impact of missing core class instruction time." 

"I like to have the following on an intake, which I use as my Biopsychosocial Assessment or Initial Evaluation:

  • Demographics
  • Emergency contacts
  • Billing information/credit card information
  • Presenting concerns, symptoms, onset of symptoms
  • History of mental health treatment w/diagnosis, medications
  • Physical diagnoses and treatments
  • Current PCP, last physical exam date
  • Current living situation (housing), employment, education
  • Family, leisure/hobbies, military experience, legal issues
  • Cultural/ethnic background
  • Religious/spiritual background
  • History or current use of any substances (alcohol, drugs)"

Omar J. Zurita, LCSW

Part two:

The questions on the next part of the form really depend on your practice and the extra information you’d like to have. By this time, you’ve likely already vetted your client over email or the phone before the first session. These next questions are about filling in the blanks and they depend on your practice. 

For example, if you’re a marriage and family therapist, you might consider these questions about family history:

  • What is your current relationship status?
  • Is there anything regarding your relationships you would like us to be aware of?
  • Do you have any children?
  • If yes, briefly describe your relationship with your children.
  • Briefly describe your relationships with your parents.
  • Do you have any siblings?
  • If yes, briefly describe your relationship with your siblings.
  • Is there anything else regarding your family history that we should be aware of?

Notice those questions that start with “If yes…?” If you use an online form, you can make a follow-up question visible depending on the answer to a question. 

For example, if a client responds that they have children, you can make a question that asks about the relationship appear.  This is why you should consider using an online form instead of a PDF, which we’ll talk more about later.

"I find that with adults, I want to learn about their adverse life experiences from childhood (ACEs). Some questions I include about this look at things like:

  • How would you characterize your childhood
  • What are your relationships like with significant others?
  • How do you think your past experiences are affecting you now?

I always ask many questions about family history (e.g., history of mental illness, history of addictions, history of behavioral patterns, neurodivergence)."

Sarah Stein-Wolf, LCMHC, RPT

You might also want to ask questions about school and work, as well as hobbies and recreational activities. Learning about good and bad habits (e.g., exercise, sleep routines, smoking, drinking, etc.) will also give you a clearer picture of your client’s challenges. 

"I always ask about substance use, perceptual disturbances (far more common than people think), suicidal and homicidal ideations (current)."

Anita Adams, LPC

Including questions and prompts about why they’re seeking care can help you fill in gaps if you didn’t get that information when they first contacted you. 

"I include asking clients what they do for fun and what their therapy goals are. I also make sure to ask about preferred names and pronouns and make it a point to explain confidentiality in detail."

Crystal Matti, LMSW

Don’t forget, the perfect place to start is with a template, and we’re offering you a free PDF. However, keep in mind that it’s best to recreate it as an online therapy intake form and customize it to fit your practice. 

Free intake form

Therapy intake form best practices

How you decide to use your intake form depends on how you like to manage your practice. After you make sure you have the information required by your state, it’s really up to you. 

However, there are a few best practices that apply to most counselors.

Skip the questions that don’t make sense for your practice

Many therapists have a brief conversation with a potential client either on the phone or through email to determine if they’d be a good fit. In that case, questions about why someone wants therapy have probably already been answered. If you don’t feel like a question is useful, don’t ask it.

"It's very strategic. When it comes to trauma treatment, it can take eight to twelve weeks for them to therapeutically connect. So my assessments aren't about 'what's your favorite color?' That will come as we're getting to know each other."

Karyetta Walker, EdD, LCMHC

"I ask about risk factors (e.g., thoughts of harm to self or others, psychotic and manic and eating disordered symptoms) on my screening instrument for practical reasons but not about trauma on the intake. Since the relationship has not been established yet, it seems unlikely that the answer will be accurate."

Kathy Angell, PhD

Protect your clients’ information 

Because your clients are giving you private and possibly sensitive information about themselves, confidentiality is very important. For this reason, make sure that you’re securing the information. One way is to use a HIPAA-compliant online form service such as Hush™ Secure Forms.

Use an online intake form instead of paper or PDFs

If you’re still using paper forms, it’s time to upgrade to online. Your clients will thank you, and you’ll thank yourself. 

While a PDF form (like our free template) is better than paper and will get the job done, an online form is vastly superior. 

Online forms serve the same purpose as PDF forms, but they do a better job of keeping confidential information secure. They’re also easier for your clients to deal with. They don’t have to print, fill out, scan, and upload information like they do with PDFs. 

Online forms also speed up the intake process. As soon as you take on a new client, you can send them your forms to fill out in the comfort of their home. Then, they can send them right back for you to review before the first appointment. 

Here are some more reasons why online forms are better than PDFs:

Security icon Security. PDF forms that are sent back and forth using regular email like Outlook or Gmail aren’t very secure. Your clients’ information could fall into the wrong hands. When you use a HIPAA-compliant online form service, intake forms can be securely filled out, submitted, and filed away.
Keyboard icon They’re easier for your clients to fill out. It can be hard to squeeze everything you want to say into the pre-sized fields on a PDF. Online forms give your clients all the space they need and adapt to their screen.
File icon They’re easier for you to edit and file away. Updates are simple to make and result in one form, preventing you from sending out the wrong version by mistake. Submitted forms are filed away in one place and easy to find. 
Logic icon You can add fields that are only visible to certain clients. (E.g., fields asking for parent information will only show up if the birth date indicates that the client is a minor.) That way your clients don’t have to read through questions that don’t apply to them.

We understand that switching from PDFs (or paper) to online forms might sound daunting. Maybe you worry: 

  • That you aren’t tech savvy enough
  • That online forms won’t be HIPAA compliant
  • That your clients’ information won’t be secure

It’s not as complicated as you think! Our specialists are happy to answer any questions you have with no obligation to sign up for anything. Our specialists are just here to help you get the information you need. 

Schedule a consultation with a Hushmail specialist.  

Therapy intake form mistakes

It’s important to use a little common sense when looking for a good intake form template or creating your own. Here are some things to think about:

Common intake form mistakes

FAQs about therapy intake forms

Here are some lingering questions you might have about intake forms:

Does your intake form need to be HIPAA compliant?

Yes. Your clients are giving you sensitive information about their health. It needs to be protected. Make sure that you use a HIPAA-compliant form service that comes with a business associate agreement (BAA).

Not sure what a BAA is? Find out in our article Do you need a Business Associate Agreement? 

Is there anything you should never ask on your intake forms?

Different practitioners have different preferences for how they do things, so the answer to this question is, it depends.

For example, “sometimes people don't like to ask about race,” says Dr. Walker. “But I have people fill that out because I don't want to assume that you're something that you're not. We're such a diverse culture now. Understanding race and culture allows me to avoid being insensitive and harmful in practice. It says that I want to learn to better help you, not force you to work through my personal lens.”

Some practitioners have learned through experience that it’s best to not ask specific questions about sensitive topics, preferring instead to let that come out during sessions.

"Regarding going into details about trauma, I personally would only have this as a check box section and would give directions not to be very specific in this portion of an intake form. I would also state that the section is not required if the client would rather discuss in person."

Anita Adams, LPC

"I never ask questions that invite a significant amount of text, as this would have to be kept in the client’s file for the ten years required by PHIPA [...in Canada]. This means that if their file were subpoenaed, anything they’d written on that form that they would not want to appear in court would still appear in court.

This can be dangerous for clients who are victims of trauma and are involved in court proceedings, as written material can be scrutinized to a high level; that in and of itself can become traumatic for clients."

Katy Reinhardt, MEd, RP, CCC

If you’re early in your career, your clinical supervisor can help you decide how to handle sensitive questions on your forms. 

What do your clients think about intake forms?

Do you wonder how your clients feel when filling out your intake form? Christen Hansel is a counselor and a client. Here’s her perspective as a client:

“I recently was looking for a therapist for myself. Her intake questionnaire included questions about history that were really difficult for me. There are two reasons for this. 

One: when you write something personal and potentially shame-inducing on a questionnaire, there is no empathic response to re-regulate your nervous system or help you feel this counselor doesn't judge you for your history. 

And two: there are things I would feel a lot safer to disclose in the context of a relationship. A questionnaire for someone you haven't met yet is not a relationship. I understand why counselors want to know off the bat about substance abuse history, trauma history, hospitalizations, or other difficult things, but it is not trauma-informed to require this info in a questionnaire, especially when you are not making a statement that gives clients a sense of choice and agency about what they disclose.”

Christen Hansel, MSEd, Resident

How often should you have your client update their intake form?

Practitioners vary in how they handle updating their intake form. According to Dr. Walker, there’s no need to have your clients revisit their client intake form. “If there's another traumatic event while they're working with me, that's just something I document,” says Dr. Walker. “Otherwise, just make sure that your consents are up to date, verify current contact information (e.g., emails, contact number, address), insurance, and other administrative information and that your consent forms are signed every 12 months. If you bill insurance, you may want to verify their insurance monthly, because you can end up being left with writing off a bill due to non-payment.”

I don't have them update the form. I know any updates as I see them in session and add any updates to my notes. Again, The least paperwork the better.

Lisa Goodrich, LMSW

However, Anita Adams, LPC, and Sarah Stein-Wolf, LCMHC, RPT, try to update their forms as changes occur or annually. And Crystal Matti, LMSW, updates her questionnaires “if they move or have a significant life change, or have a change in therapy goals.”

Do clients need to sign their therapy intake questionnaire?

A signature isn’t necessary as long as it’s limited to intake questions. If you’re including a consent form or clause that gives permission to share a client’s information with people not considered part of treatment or payment, it needs a signature. 

Customize your therapy intake forms

Once you find an intake form you like, you can easily recreate it and customize it with a form builder like Hush™ Secure Forms. Just by dragging and dropping, you can add your branding, a variety of different fields, including fields for signatures, and a lot more. 

How to make an online form

Make sure the form is tailored to your practice by asking thoughtful questions. And use a HIPAA-compliant online form service to make sure the information is secure. 

A customized intake form that collects the right information ensures you start off on the right foot with your clients.

Interested in taking the next step?

Learn more about Hush Secure Forms

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