It’s a general assumption that only a psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist can write an emotional support animal (ESA) letter. The word “emotion” leads to the belief that only a healthcare professional who deals primarily with emotional and mental concerns can write a letter for an ESA. The truth is that a family doctor, also known as a primary care physician or primary doctor, can also write an ESA letter. As primary care physicians work so closely with their patients, they may have the most knowledge about individualized treatments for their emotional or psychological needs.
In America alone, about 48 million people experience mental illness. Emotional disorders and mental illness are common, and treatments may involve talk therapy, medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and an emotional support animal.
- What is an Emotional Support Animal?
- What is an ESA Letter?
- What is a Primary Care Physician?
- Can a Primary Care Physician Write an ESA Letter?
- Who Else Can Write an ESA Letter?
- Why do I Need an ESA Letter?
- Know Your Rights
If you do not have a Primary Care Physician or cannot visit their practice, connect online with a licensed health professional for an ESA letter, click on the link below to get started.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that helps people who are struggling with a mental or emotional disorder. These animals provide companionship and comfort as part of a person’s mental health plan for their condition. An ESA may be used along with other therapies, such as medication, counseling sessions, holistic treatments.
An ESA is protected under federal laws. Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an emotional support animal can accompany their owner while in residential housing—even in areas where pets are not typically allowed. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prevents landlords from discriminating against people with an ESA. This means a person cannot be denied housing for needing an ESA and they cannot be charged a pet fee or pet deposit.
What is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter is an official document authored and signed by a licensed healthcare professional. It recommends an animal as part of a person’s ongoing mental health plan for their mental or emotional disorder. The professional writing the ESA letter must be licensed in the state of the client’s residence.
The ESA letter must be written on the physician’s official letterhead and must have the following information:
- Physician’s license number
- License expiration date
- Letter issued date
- Physician’s contact information (This is for the landlord or airline to verify the letter)
What is a Primary Care Physician?
A primary care physician is what most people think of as their family doctor. The primary care provider (PCP) or primary care physician treats common medical problems. A PCP is generally the professional that a person sees the most often and follows their care for a long time. Most PCPs are doctors, however, a PCP can also be a licensed nurse practitioner or a licensed physician assistant. A primary doctor does the following duties:
- Identifies and treats common health problems
- Assesses a patient’s immediate and long-term needs and makes referrals and consultations as necessary
- Educates patients about preventative measures and healthy choices
Can a Primary Care Physician write an ESA Letter?
A family doctor or primary care physician can write an ESA letter for their clients if they are currently licensed. The doctor that follows an individual’s overall care would be knowledgeable about that patient’s need for an emotional support animal. Being familiar with a patient allows the doctor to confidently suggest an ESA as part of their patient’s treatment plan. All you have to do is ask your doctor if they believe an emotional support animal would benefit you with your disability.
Who Else Can Write an ESA Letter?
If your family doctor or physician is not able or unwilling to prescribe an ESA letter for you, there is still hope. You can find a local therapist that can help you either in person or online. The following licensed healthcare professionals can also provide an ESA letter for you:
- Licensed Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
- Registered Nurse
- Physician’s Assistant
Why Do I Need an ESA Letter?
As many individuals falsely claim their pets to be emotional support animals, many states have increased penalties for misrepresenting an animal as an ESA. A legitimate ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional avoids having to incur fines or penalties. An ESA letter provides credibility to all ESA owners and animals, maintaining respectability and authority.
Know Your Rights
An ESA allows you to live and travel with your animal companion. However, it does not allow you the freedom to have your ESA with you in all public areas or retail environments. Although many establishments are becoming more welcoming of animals, they still have the right to ask you to leave—even if you have a valid ESA letter. Federal laws protect your ESA in your place of residence or during travel, areas where you would benefit from your ESA the most.
To summarize, an ESA letter turns your beloved pet into a legitimate emotional support animal, allowing you to live and travel with your animal as a means to alleviate your mental or emotional disorder. Your primary care physician can indeed issue an ESA letter. If you, or someone you know, might benefit from an emotional support animal, ask your family doctor.