Updated: March 28, 2020
Many people experience some kind of severe psychological or emotional difficulty in their life. In fact, by some estimates, 1 in 5 Americans may suffer from a mental illness. Emotional support animals (ESA) help people who are suffering live productive and happy lives by providing unconditional support and companionship. Many people use ESAs in conjunction with therapy, medication, holistic treatments and other resources to relieve symptoms of their depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobia or other illness.
Federal law recognizes the importance of ESAs. Owners of emotional support animals are given certain protections under federal law which enable them to live with their ESAs (even in no-pet buildings) and fly with their ESAs onboard airplane cabins. ESA owners are also exempt from having to pay fees and deposits to housing providers and airlines in order to be accompanied by their ESA.
If you are interested in qualifying for an emotional support animal, the first and most important thing you should know is that the only way to properly qualify your animal companion as an ESA is by obtaining a recommendation letter from a licensed healthcare professional. There are many misconceptions about what ESAs are, the process to qualify them, whether you need to get an ESA registration or certification and what rights ESA owners have. In this article we will try to clear up some of the confusion and explore how to properly qualify for an emotional support animal.
If you are already prepared to see if you qualify for your ESA letter online, you can get started at the link below.
Why do You Need a Doctor or Therapist to “Prescribe” or Recommend an Emotional Support Animal?
Federal rules and guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Department of Transportation provide clear answers on this issue. A valid emotional support animal letter must come from a licensed healthcare professional (sometimes also referred to as a “licensed mental health professional” or LMHP). Licensed health care professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, licensed counselors, and other licensed professionals.
If you get your letter from an unlicensed individual or a company claiming to sell instant ESA letters, you might as well flush it down the drain as airlines, landlords, co-ops and HOAs will not recognize the letter as valid. You will also lose credibility with the airline or housing provider, which could make it more difficult to get accommodation later on.
As this point you may be asking questions like what if I don’t have a therapist? Or what if I can’t visit a professional in person for financial or other reasons? We will address these topics later in this article and give you some ideas on how you can get the help you need.
Be careful where you get your ESA documents from!
As mentioned before, there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to correctly get documentation for an emotional support animal. It is important to have valid documentation. Without it, you can’t take advantage of the benefits ESA owners enjoy under Fair Housing rules and the Air Carrier Access Act.
It is critically important you get your ESA letter from the right source. Otherwise, your landlord could potentially evict your animal companion and impose hefty fees, deposits and fines on you for having a pet in your apartment or home.
Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous companies and websites out there that try to take advantage of people looking to qualify for an ESA. A cottage industry has developed selling questionable advice and products to unwitting consumers. There are websites for example that sell things like certifications, registrations, licenses or ID cards claiming that they will automatically qualify your pet as an ESA. These products alone will not properly qualify an animal companion as an ESA, and a landlord or airline does not have to accept them as valid forms of proof.
We can’t stress this enough to potential ESA owners: the only way to qualify an ESA is by obtaining a recommendation letter from a licensed healthcare professional. We will further discuss what is in a legitimate ESA letter and how you can obtain a letter from a licensed professional online in a convenient, confidential and cost-effective way.
Elements of a Legitimate ESA Letter
Knowing what an emotional support animal letter contains is another way to make sure your letter will work.
This is what your ESA letter needs to have:
- Mental health professional’s letterhead and signature, as well as date of issuance
- Mental health professional’s license type, date of license, license number, and the state that issued the license
- Confirmation that an emotional support animal is a vital part of your life
- Description of how the animal will help the condition (though they do not need to perform a task specifically for your condition)
- “Prescription” (although not technically a prescription, it is commonly referred to as an ESA prescription) or recommendation for an ESA
- Your name and details about your pet (type, breed, name, etc.) is not required but may be included
Asking a Therapist or Doctor for an Emotional Support Animal Letter
As we have discussed, only a licensed professional can provide a valid “prescription” or recommendation for an emotional support animal (note that while some people refer to them as “prescriptions”, ESA letters are technically not prescriptions – they are recommendation letters).
If you’re already in therapy for a mental illness, great! It is wonderful that you are getting attention for your condition and we applaud anyone who takes the step of reaching out for help. You can ask your therapist about whether an ESA may be right for you and help with the mental or emotional distress you have experienced. If your therapist is a licensed professional, such as a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, psychiatrists, nurse psychiatrist or licensed counselor, they can write an ESA letter for you if they feel it would benefit you.
If you do not have a therapist, you have a few options.
The first option is to find a mental health professional near you and explain your situation in person. A licensed mental health professional can evaluate your mental and emotional health and determine whether you would benefit from an emotional support animal’s companionship. We suggest following this route if you are not currently seeing a therapist/LMHP and are struggling with mental health issues. Therapy can be profoundly beneficial for people struggling with mental health problems, and seeking professional help is a critical step on the road to recovery.
Some people ask whether they can obtain an ESA letter from their physician. The answer is yes, you can. It may be worth exploring with your doctor whether an ESA is right for you. However, you should be aware that while doctors technically can issue ESA letters, most ESA letters are not from doctors. Doctors are also often reluctant or unwilling to provide ESA letters because they are not familiar with the patient’s mental health or are just unaware of what ESAs are and what they entail.
Seeking help in person from a licensed therapist is always a great option. However, many people suffering from a mental illness may be uncertain about where to look for one and can be overwhelmed by the search process.
Other people have difficulty seeing a therapist in person for various reasons. Some people are just too busy to schedule appointments because of working a full time job, taking care of family or because they have a busy class schedule at school. Others simply cannot afford the cost of seeing a therapist, especially those who are uninsured. There are also people who have anxieties or phobias about seeing someone in person and discussing details about their personal history and mental condition.
For people in these categories, one potential option is obtaining an ESA letter through an online provider, and we will discuss next.
Getting an Emotional Support Animal Letter Online
We have stated it now several times, but we can’t emphasize it enough:
The only person who can “prescribe” or recommend a recognized emotional support animal is a licensed healthcare professional.
Fortunately, for people without a therapist or who have trouble seeing a professional in person, many licensed professionals work remotely and provide services online. Obtaining an ESA letter from a therapist that works remotely is just as valid as getting a letter from a therapist you see in person. Remote therapists provide an invaluable service for people who can’t see a therapist in person, and HUD recognizes that online providers can issue valid ESA letters. Regardless of whether you see a therapist in person or online, it is always important to make sure they are licensed for your state.
There are many websites that sell things like certificates, registrations, IDs and licenses. However, there is no official registry for ESAs and you will be turned away by landlords and airlines if you only show registration papers you purchased. There is also no such thing as an official certification or license for an ESA, and IDs and vests alone will also not properly qualify an emotional support animal. However, some ESA owners like to use these ID cards, certifications and accessories to identify their animal as their certified emotional support animal.
In the next section we will discuss how you can determine whether the online provider you are using is trustworthy or not.
How Can You Recognize Reliable and Legitimate ESA Websites?
First of all, any website that doesn’t offer to connect you with a licensed mental health professional is not a valid source for ESA letters.
On the other hand, websites that operate as a platform that efficiently connects you to a real licensed therapist that works remotely can offer legitimate services. These websites don’t just simply sell you an ESA letter or provide unreliable certificates, licenses, identification cards or vests. Instead, they offer to connect you with a licensed provider that will use their professional judgment to determine whether to approve you for an emotional support animal letter.
You will need to answer some screening questions, and the website will securely share your answers with a licensed mental health professional. Then, the LMHP licensed for your state will review your answers and contact you directly. This a cost-effective, efficient and modern process for seeing whether an emotional support animal is right for you with the help of a licensed professional.
If the licensed professional determines that an ESA is right for you, they will issue a recommendation letter for you on their letterhead. Once you have this letter, you can present it to your housing provider or airline and request accommodation for your emotional support animal.
Red Flags for Fake ESA Letters
- ESA Registration/Certification Services – Emotional support animals are not required to be registered. There is no governing body that registers emotional support animals. Airlines and landlords will deny your “registered ESA” if you do not have a legitimate ESA letter. Similarly, there is no official certification or licensing process for ESAs.
- Instant Approval – A licensed therapist must evaluate your need for an ESA. You cannot be instantly approved for an ESA letter. It takes time to approve each individual by a licensed mental health professional. A legitimate service also cannot guarantee that you will be approved, since each licensed professional will make their own determination about whether you qualify for not.
- Dirt Cheap Letters – A legitimate ESA letter is written by a licensed mental health professional. Using an online provider can be cheaper than seeing a therapist in person, but a licensed professional does not offer services for dirt cheap. If you find a service offering bargain basement letters without the involvement of a licensed professional it is probably not legitimate.
The Benefits you Get with an Emotional Support Animal Letter
Emotional support animals have certain rights that regular pets don’t have.
Under federal housing and air travel rules, emotional support animals are not considered regular pets. That means any policy that a building or airline has with regard to normal pets does not apply to an ESA.
A legitimate emotional support animal letter can ensure that your animal companion can fly with you on an airplane at no additional cost. In addition, the letter allows your animal companion to live in a housing facility that generally doesn’t allow pets. Tenants with emotional support animals do not need to pay any fees or deposits in connection with their ESA. Landlords also cannot restrict an ESA solely because it is a certain breed or weight.
If you are looking to see if you qualify for an ESA but do not have a therapist or are having difficulty finding one or seeing one in person, ESA Doctors can help connect you to someone licensed for your state that works remotely. Just click on the link below to get started.
Get your Emotional Support Animal Letter Online
Get the Love and Support you deserve.