According to the American Kennel Society (AKC), emotional support animals (ESA) are vital to an individualized treatment plan for an emotional or mental disorder. A licensed therapist or physician orders an ESA through the documentation of an ESA letter.
What Is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter notes that an animal is an authorized component of a person’s treatment, which affords the ESA protections under federal laws. A licensed mental healthcare professional (LMHP) can write an ESA letter, including:
- mental healthcare worker
- licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
- licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT)
- nurse practitioner
The ESA letter should indicate the authorized person’s information, such as their name, license number, and contact information.
Can My Doctor or Therapist Refuse to Write an ESA Letter?
Keeping in mind that an ESA must be written by a licensed healthcare professional, not all professionals will write one. Some prefer not to write ESA letters for any of their patients, and others may feel hesitant to include an animal as part of a patient’s treatment plan. They may not see an animal as essential to a person’s treatment, or they are not aware of the therapeutic value of an ESA.
Some health maintenance organizations (HMOs) prohibit their employees from writing ESA letters. You might enjoy your therapist and find them to be beneficial, and they might even agree that an ESA would positively impact your mental health, but their employer (the HMO) keeps them from writing an ESA letter.
There’s no need to pressure a therapist or physician to write an ESA letter or react defensively. They are well within their scope of practice by refusing to write an ESA letter and have the right to do so. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take if this situation occurs.
1. Provide Your Healthcare Professional with Evidence
If your licensed healthcare worker is not with an HMO that doesn’t allow their employees to prescribe ESAs, you could educate them regarding the mental health benefits of ESA.
You can refer your healthcare worker to the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). HABRI studies the influence animals have on a person’s physical and mental health. They call the beneficial impact of animals on human beings the “Pet Effect.” This effect reflects in the surveys conducted by HABRI, indicating the following benefits of human-animal interaction:
- Helps with feelings of loneliness and social isolation
- Beneficial for their community
- Offers a connection with other people
These results show that people with pets enjoy a sense of wellbeing from their presence. However, for people with an emotional or mental disorder, an ESA can be the catalyst for healing.
Research from other sources confirms HABRI’s findings. Another study found that people with a pet or animal in their home were more likely to socialize with people in their neighborhood compared to non-pet owners. Animals are also recognized as a protective factor for suicide, helping keep their owners from feeling depressed, hopeless, or unnecessary. Unlike pets, an ESA is necessary for the treatment of a person’s emotional or mental disorder.
2. Find a Licensed Therapist or Physician Online
If your licensed healthcare worker doesn’t write an ESA letter, despite your efforts to inform them of their benefits, there are other avenues. Using an online service is another legitimate way to obtain an ESA letter.
When using online services, it’s important to check how long they have been in business and make sure they work with mental health professionals licensed to assist you in your state. The process for these services is simple, but they do require disclosure of some of your health information. Be prepared to answer questions regarding your background information, details about your mental health, and your potential ESA.
Though these questions might seem intrusive, they’re legitimate questions a therapist needs to evaluate a prospective ESA handler — and are needed to obtain an honest ESA letter! When looking for a reputable company, you want a service that reviews your case thoroughly and understands your situation. A scam ESA letter service will only want your money in exchange for a letter, while a valid service will ensure all the requirements are met.
After Receiving Your ESA Letter
Although registering your ESA and ESA identification like ID cards and tags isn’t required, you may want to consider purchasing these. When you have these items, the public is less likely to question you about your ESA. Registering an ESA also offers a level of security and quick access to documents, should the need arise.
Some states also have additional laws in regards to ESA. Most of these laws apply to the misrepresentation of ESA or service dogs, so you must have a legal ESA letter. If your therapist doesn’t write an ESA letter, your choice should fall on getting assistance elsewhere rather than misrepresent your pet.