ESA letters are commonly written by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. But many patients wonder whether they can also obtain a valid ESA letter from their primary care physician.
The simple answer is yes!
One of the reasons why there is so much confusion over who can write an ESA letter is because of the type of conditions an emotional support animal is meant to help. Many patients who suffer from a mental or emotional disorder do not see a regular doctor for their condition. Rather, their first line of defense is usually a counselor, psychiatrist, or related health care professional. This has led to a common belief that only a licensed professional who works intentionally with mental or emotional disorders can write an ESA letter.
Here’s what you need to know about asking your doctor to write you an ESA letter and how to ensure that your ESA letter is valid and will be accepted under specific conditions.
If you have already taken steps to connect with a licensed mental health care professional for treatment, then it’s reasonable that you would also consult with that person in receiving an ESA letter.
But for many patients, their efforts in gaining treatment have gone no further than their primary care physician. They have not taken the next step in seeking specialized treatment for their condition. Rather, they have had conversations with a primary care provider only, and maybe even received prescription medications to help them manage their symptoms.
The reasons for this are many. Some people may not be ready to speak with a licensed therapist or counselor. In some cases, a person’s insurance may not cover these sessions, and money poses a barrier to their treatment. Others might not know where to look for a specialist in their area, well some people may be too embarrassed to take this next step.
No matter your specific reasons our priorities we’re seeing a primary care doctor instead of a specialist, an ESA letter can still be within your reach. Doctors who are licensed to practice in the state in which you live are able to write an ESA letter.
In fact, there are many benefits to asking your regular doctor for an ESA letter. For starters, they have the benefit of knowing your entire medical history. This includes any complications or symptoms you may have experienced from a mental or emotional health condition. And chances are, you see your doctor several times per year for various needs. Each of these visits can be an excellent opportunity for your doctor to check in and follow up with you regarding your condition.
Because your doctor has the benefit of a long-standing relationship with you, they may feel more confident and their decision to prescribe an emotional support animal as part of your treatment.
If you do not have a primary care doctor, do not feel comfortable asking your doctor to write you an ESA letter, or otherwise are not able to obtain an ESA letter from your doctor, there are other professionals who can step in. Here’s a quick look at who else can write an ESA letter for you:
Psychiatrists specialize in mental health disorders. Their patients are usually those who have been diagnosed or are seeking diagnosis for conditions like bipolar, crippling anxiety, schizophrenia, and others. And since psychiatrists are licensed doctors, they are able to prescribe medications and non-medical treatments to their patients, including emotional support animals.
Psychiatrists may want to work with patients over one or more sessions before determining whether an emotional support animal might benefit their condition.
Psychologists the psychiatrists are often considered to be one in the same, but the two actually serve very different purposes. For starters, psychiatrists focus mostly on mental health disorders, while psychologists specialize in behavioral issues and psychological conditions. Examples include PTSD, personality disorders, eating disorders, and depression, to name a few.
Psychologists may recommend a variety of therapies to help their patients lead normal lives, one of which could be an emotional support animal.
Like psychiatrists, psychologists are licensed doctors (albeit not medical doctors) and have the authority to write an ESA letter. However, something to keep in mind is that psychologists often specialize in specific areas. They focus on different conditions that require different treatments. Before speaking with a psychologist, make sure they can help you based on your condition and symptoms.
Many general medical practices employ physicians’ assistants to work with patients who experience less severe conditions. They are authorized to write prescriptions and can therefore recommend an emotional support animal as part of your treatment.
While RNs and BSNs do not have the authority to write prescriptions, keep in mind that not all nurses are created equal. Psychiatric mental health nurses specialize in working with patients with mental conditions.
Similar to psychiatrists, a psychiatric mental health nurse can diagnose and treat patients. Some of the most common conditions they see patients for include schizophrenia, personality disorders, and geriatric psychiatric disorders.
If they believe an emotional support animal may benefit your condition, they can write an ESA letter as part of your treatment.
A licensed professional counselor can offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. This is a common option for those who feel life has given them too much to handle. They’re stressed and overwhelmed, they feel anxious and exhausted, and they simply need to unload. While counselors are not doctors and therefore cannot prescribe medications, they can offer non-medical therapies like an emotional support animal.
In the ESA letter, a counselor will not be able to offer a diagnosis. But they can explain their decision and why they think an emotional support animal might help, such as lowering feelings of anxiety or stress.
Licensed clinical social workers work in mental health counseling. They see patients in a wide range of disciplines, including but not limited to substance abuse, medical social work, school social work, children’s mental health, and family therapy. Because they see the impact that certain conditions have on an individual, they are better able to understand what a person experiences as a result of their condition.
LCSWs are licensed by the state and have the authority to recommend an emotional support animal. Suggesting an ESA as part of treatment fits well with the approach social workers take to help others manage their mental health conditions. They take a strengths-based focus, where they help people find and use their natural skills to take control over their health.
Marriages that ended badly, marriages on the brink of ending, or family discord can create undue stress for everyone in the household. LMFTs specialize in family dynamics and may recommend an emotional support animal as part of a broader solution. The reason they might suggest an ESA is to foster healing and create a sense of love and affection within the household.
There are a lot of misconceptions about how to obtain an official ESA letter. Online channels have made getting an ESA letter more accessible to more people. Digital media has also put the concept of emotional support animals on more people’s radars, prompting more individuals to seek ESAs as a potential option.
Unfortunately, this increased interest has also led to a rise in scam websites that claim to offer ESA letters to anyone for a flat fee. These websites target individuals who could benefit from an emotional support animal and want the cheapest, fastest way to get a “legit” letter. They also focus on people who don’t really need an emotional support animal but sell them on the idea that they can travel with their pets, take them into stores, or avoid pet fees and deposits when renting a property. Websites that make these claims should be avoided at all costs, as these claims simply are not true and will not result in a valid ESA letter.
Truthfully, the only way you can get an official ESA letter is by first speaking with a licensed mental health professional or your primary care physician. Your provider will determine whether an emotional support animal could be beneficial to your condition. And if they reach this decision, they will write an ESA letter for you on their official letterhead and sign it.
Your doctor or other mental health professional will know what to include when writing an ESA letter. However, it’s also beneficial for you to know what your letter should say in the event you obtain your ESA letter online. With so many scam websites eager to take advantage of others, it’s important that you trust the service provider you use and feel confident about the ESA letter you receive.
By law, ESA letters include several hallmark elements:
In some cases, your ESA letter may also include a specific animal or breed. This can be helpful if you already have a pet that will be your emotional support animal, but it is not a necessary part of an ESA letter.
Healthcare providers are required to follow these requirements not just to present a valid case in your letter, but also to protect your privacy. An ESA letter isn’t designed to reveal sensitive medical details about your condition. Rather, it only contains enough information to show that you have a condition and are receiving treatment for it in the form of an emotional support animal.
Despite the many scam websites offering fake ESA letters, there are legitimate way to get an ESA letter online, too.
Just as more medical providers are offering telehealth services, counselors and mental health professionals also offer remote options to connect. For many patients, this method is preferrable because it makes receiving mental health services more accessible. There’s no transportation barrier to overcome. Patients can expect the utmost privacy in speaking with a professional. And they don’t have to jump through hoops trying to decide which type of provider to connect with or where to find them in their local area.
Instead, individuals are turning to services like Therapy Pet that can connect you with a licensed professional in your state. We don’t offer fake promises of instant ESA letters that you can download and print at home, nor do we offer any guarantees that you will qualify for an emotional support animal. The process we follow is very much like what you would experience in an office or clinical setting. The only difference is that we help you do it from the comfort of your own home.
To start, we do a quick 5-minute pre-screening to see if you might qualify for an ESA letter. This is by no means a substitute for speaking with a mental health professional. But it can help you get an early idea of if your condition might qualify for this type of treatment.
After the pre-screening, you can select the type of ESA letter you need. At Therapy Pets, we offer two types of letters: one for housing and one for travel. Select both if you think you’ll need them! Each letter is tailored to the specific use case so that when you present it to the right individuals, they will know your doctor’s recommendations without a doubt.
Once you select your letter type, we pass this information along to the mental health professional with whom you will speak so they can write the appropriate letter(s) for you.
The law requires that ESA letters must be issued by a doctor or provider licensed in the same state of the patient’s residence. At Therapy Pet, we have an extensive network of licensed healthcare professionals covering all 50 states. We connect you with someone who is licensed in your state and qualified to speak with you about your condition. This session is your opportunity to talk more about your symptoms, your diagnosis if you have one, and why you are considering an emotional support animal as part of your treatment.
If your provider believes that an emotional support animal can benefit your symptoms and help you live a higher quality of life, he or she will write the appropriate ESA letter. When you use Therapy Pets, you can expect to receive your ESA letter in hand in as little as 72 hours with expedited options.
And rest assured that you can put your ESA letter obtained through Therapy Pets to the test. It will meet all of the required criteria we outlined above so that it will be readily accepted by your landlord, participating airline, or other travel service that extends its services to emotional support animals.
It’s unfortunate that scam websites are willing to prey on some of our population’s most vulnerable individuals. What’s more, these same websites also target people who simply want to skirt the rules and don’t truly need the companionship and calming that a support animal brings. This type of abuse can make authentic emotional support animals seem less valid and cause hardships for those who actually need them.
As you are exploring your online options for obtaining an ESA letter, there are a few red flags you can look for before handing over your hard-earned money.
First, any website offering instant ESA letter downloads should be avoided at all costs. While current technology makes it easy for letters to be written, digitally signed, and downloaded, this simply isn’t the process for official ESA letters. Rather, ESA letters must be hand-signed by your healthcare provider and printed on their official letterhead. Anything less could mean an invalid letter.
Also, check to see if the website or provider is pushing hard on the “extras” like a pet vest, document holder, tag, or other gear. Sometimes, websites will offer to sell you a complete kit that will make you look more official. But the truth is none of these things are really necessary. They don’t make your ESA more official because for the most part, you won’t be taking your animal into public spaces. Because they are not service animals, they do not need any special vests or gear saying that they have a special role to play. Selling this gear is simply a way for the business to make more money.
Another red flag to look for is whether the company says you need to register or certify your emotional support animal. In fact, there is no such thing. Your animal does not need to be registered or certified because they are not trained to perform specific tasks. The ESA letter is really the only documentation you need.
Some websites may even go as far as saying you can skip talking with a mental healthcare professional and just receive your letter after paying a fee. This is a BIG red flag you should avoid. As we shared earlier, the only way to get a valid ESA letter is to be written one by a licensed healthcare professional.
If you do have a meeting with a healthcare professional and they issue you a letter, make sure the letter contains the information we listed above. This means having their name and contact information, their license number, their state of jurisdiction, their signature, and their explicit recommendations for an emotional support animal.
Speaking of letters, you can also check the language used in the letter. Minor nuances, such as using the words ‘therapy pet’ instead of ‘emotional support animal,’ are dead giveaways that a letter is not authentic. Licensed professionals are usually experienced in writing ESA letters and know what’s required.
Last but not least, be wary of cheap rates. Some companies lure victims by promising the lowest rates, hoping that the individual won’t know the difference between a valid ESA letter and a fake one. The old saying is true: you get what you pay for.
If you have a primary care physician who you have been seeing for your mental healthcare, that can be a great place to start in obtaining an ESA letter. But if you do not have a primary care doctor or would prefer to connect with a licensed mental healthcare professional in your state, Therapy Pets is here to help.
Our service is designed to make your life easier. We help individuals take the next step in taking control of their mental health by exploring the possibility of an emotional support animal. It might be just the thing you need to live a higher, more confident quality of life.
Do you qualify for an ESA letter? Start here by taking our 5-minute assessment.