An ESA letter or emotional support animal letter is a letter that is needed for people who want to have their pets in places that their pets would not normally be allowed like housing and transportation. An ESA is NOT a service animal. Legally the only dogs can be service animals and they have specialized training to help people with tasks they may not be to do otherwise. An ESA is not required to have any training and can be any animal. I’ve had several families ask for a letter, usually for a housing situation where they want to move someplace but pets are not allowed.
Now I love animals and personally, I have several pets and enjoy fostering and volunteering with non-profits dedicated to animal welfare. I recognize how important the animal-human bond is and know firsthand the benefits that can come from having pets in your life. However, I have never written an ESA letter for a client and there are several reasons for this.
There are no legal guidelines for therapists to follow to write these letters, but if something were to go wrong there would be legal repercussions. When writing a letter you have to think about your client, the animal in question, and the community.
Is having an ESA going to help you?
Firstly, as a therapist, I can only assess my client’s needs and diagnose my client’s symptoms. I have to consider if my client is capable of providing for the well-being of their pets, or if this will bring added stress. Most of the time my client does not have a pet but is interested in getting one, which makes it even harder to assess if getting a pet is the right thing for them. Since I work with kids I also have to think about all the members of the family and the lifestyle of the household. I have to have a reason as to how the animal can support the client’s diagnosis. Your therapist writing a letter for you can also create a dual role.
A dual role is when a boundary is crossed and your therapist becomes more involved in your life than just providing therapeutic support. When a therapist is assessing for an ESA they should also assess the animal, but that is not a therapist’s job. We are not training in animal behavior and don’t have the knowledge to be deciding if an animal is capable of providing the support needed.
What I also find challenging is that the people who request these letters tend to end therapy early with little focus on improving their goals. To me, it feels disrespectful of my time, and in a way, they are also being disrespectful of themselves. These are good people who have diagnoses and would benefit from mental health services or have children who would benefit from services. I understand not feeling ready to make the commitment to work on yourself. Therapy is hard. But thinking that having an animal will solve those problems is a lot of pressure to place on one small creature.
What makes a good emotional support animal?
Ideally, an ESA should be well-behaved, friendly, and have a good bond with its owner. The owner and animal should be able to demonstrate how the animal supports their owner and the owner needs to demonstrate that they can take care of the animal’s needs especially financially.
Just because the animal does not require training to be an ESA doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t receive some training. For example, if your ESA is a dog and he gets loose from the house and injures someone else, that can have legal repercussions not just for the owner, but also the therapist who wrote the letter. I personally feel that all dogs should receive basic obedience training and proper socialization because it promotes the bond between the owner and the dog. This does not always occur, however, and if a dog has behavioral problems it can lead to problems in the community.
The impact of ESAs on the community.
Like I mentioned before the biggest fear is that the owner will either be irresponsible towards training and socializing their pets and this will lead to injury of another person. You have to also consider the allergies, phobias, and potential property damage that the animal can cause in certain living environments like apartments and airplanes.
A poorly trained or reactive dog can have a detrimental impact on daily living and since a therapist is ethically unable to assess for these behaviors because of lack of competency, any potential problems can come back to bite them in the butt. Also, if the client leaves the state that the therapist is licensed in then the letter may not provide the coverage expected for an ESA. There are different jurisdictions in different states which could impact the use of the ESA letter and make it void.
What to do instead.
Mostly, I don’t feel comfortable writing a letter because I want my clients to be in therapy for themselves, not to get a pet. It’s also concerning that there are no legal boundaries to protect therapists in the event that something goes wrong.
If you feel like your pet or the addition of a pet would be beneficial for you or your child’s mental health then I encourage you to use a company that provides ESA letters rather than asking a therapist or starting therapy just to get the letter.
If you are looking for an assessment to determine what therapeutic and academic services would best benefit your child, please reach out to us at CDK.
Your use of this website indicates your understanding of the following:
The information and resources contained on this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical and/or mental health disease or condition. The use of this website does not imply nor establish any type of therapist-client relationship. Furthermore, the information obtained from this site should not be considered a substitute for a thorough medical and/or mental health evaluation by an appropriately credentialed and licensed professional.
This website includes links to other websites for informational and reference purposes only. This website does not endorse, warrant or guarantee the products, services or information described or offered at these other websites. Examine the content carefully.