Emotional support animals are quickly becoming a preferred type of treatment for those who experience mental and emotional health issues. Research shows that an estimated 61 million people in the United States have some form of disability. In 2019 alone, there were over 200 million emotional support animals helping their owners live a better quality of life. However, each of these disabled individuals first had to receive an ESA letter in order for their animal to be recognized as an emotional support animal.
ESA letters aren’t something you can quickly find and download online. Rather, they are the result of a careful and focused process that prioritizes individual treatment and care from an authorized healthcare provider.
So, who is eligible to write an ESA letter? We’re covering the answer to this and more in our guide.
If you consider yourself an individual who suffers from a mental or emotional condition that affects your daily life, you might benefit from an emotional support animal, or ESA. ESAs help to calm a person’s emotions, help them ground themselves, and feel confident in daily living activities. They provide companionship, reduce the effects of phobias, and provide unconditional love and support.
For those who struggle to engage in simple activities, such as flying on a plane or being in a social setting, the benefits of an emotional support animal can be life-changing.
Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals and therefore do not need any special training or certification. However, you may need to get an ESA letter to verify that your animal companion isn’t just a pet, but rather a critical part of your daily life.
ESA letters are most commonly used for renters to overcome housing challenges. For example, if you are applying for housing in a place that doesn’t usually allow pets, your ESA letter can be the golden ticket that allows your animal to live with you under the same roof. What’s more, you will not be subjected to unfair pet fees or deposits that many complexes impose on their tenants.
Without an ESA letter, your landlord or housing authority may not recognize your animal as an emotional support animal. This means they may be able to legally deny your housing application if pets or certain breeds are not allowed, or they can legally charge you additional fees for having a pet.
An ESA letter is a lot like a medical prescription from your doctor. It states that you have a mental or emotional disability that prevents you from living a normal life, and that an emotional support animal improves your symptoms. Charging you for your pet or denying your housing application can be considered discrimination if you have an ESA letter, and the landlord could be subject to legal ramifications.
Aside from housing, there are travel benefits to having an ESA letter. The Air Carrier Access Act used to mandate that airlines must allow emotional support animals to fly with their owners for free, just like a service animal. However, there have been recent changes to regulations and airlines are no longer obligated to offer this convenience to their guests. Many still do, though, and having an ESA letter can help you leverage this benefit.
Just like only certain healthcare professionals can write prescriptions, only certain providers can write ESA letters. This is because your ESA letter is a prescription for your mental health treatment. It’s not something that just anyone can get. Rather, ESAs are reserved only for those who demonstrate a mental health impairment whose effects are improved with an emotional support animal.
With this in mind, there are several types of health professionals who are eligible to write an ESA letter:
Psychiatrists are highly trained doctors that specialize in mental health disorders. They routinely work with patients who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe anxiety, and other conditions. Because they are doctors, they have the ability to prescribe medications and other treatments to their patients, including an ESA.
If a psychiatrist determines that an emotional support animal might help, they will write an ESA letter stating their recommendation.
Many people blur the line between psychologists and psychiatrists, but the two have many differences. Psychologists work mainly with people who exhibit behavioral and psychological conditions, such as depression, eating disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and PTSD.
They often conduct and recommend therapies to help their patients improve their quality of life, including emotional support animals.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing a psychologist is that this specialty can vary greatly. Different psychologists focus on different conditions and treatments, so take care to find one that can best help you.
A counselor may be an ideal solution for individuals who feel overwhelmed with life. Counselors are listening ears that offer professional guidance and opinions. They don’t necessarily make a diagnosis, but rather provide an outlet for your thoughts and feelings and help you make sense of them. They provide emotional support and may help with behavioral or mental issues.
Because licensed counselors are not doctors, they can only offer limited treatment options and non-prescription therapies. One example of this is recommending an emotional support animal since it is not a medical treatment. Counselors do have the authority to write an ESA letter and explain their decision, such as helping to reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.
If you see a physician for help with a mental health disorder, they can also write an ESA letter for your condition. Your physician is in a good position to write your ESA letter because they have the benefit of knowing your full medical history. Many mental health conditions are characterized by other health issues, such as high blood pressure or pain. They may suggest an emotional support animal to reduce feelings of fear and anxiety, helping you to relax and decrease the stress on your body.
Physicians assistants are authorized to write prescriptions, including those for non-medical treatments like an emotional support animal. Many individuals see a physician’s assistant for less severe conditions, such as temporary bouts of stress.
Depending on your condition, they may recommend an emotional support animal to help make daily living and travel easier for you.
Social workers work extensively with people suffering from emotional and mental health disorders. Some of the people they work with have undergone substance abuse, past mental traumas, and other complex issues. They’re familiar with the challenges individuals experience as a result of their condition.
Because they witness many events first-hand, they are in a good position to detect problems early before they become more severe. In some cases, they may recommend non-medical treatment options, like an emotional support pet. They can easily write a valid ESA letter so their case patients can start improving their lifestyles immediately.
Not all nurses are created equal, especially when it comes to treating your mental health. Psychiatric mental health nurses can provide evaluations and make recommendations on their findings. Similar to psychiatrists, psychiatric mental health nurses specialize in mental disorders and can provide diagnoses and treatment options. Some of the conditions they work with include schizophrenia, personality disorders, and geriatric psychiatric disorders.
For conditions that might be improved with emotional support, a psychiatric mental health nurse can write an ESA letter on your behalf.
Every person can benefit from a little emotional support. Science has long told us that being around animals can help to lower our heart rates, decrease our blood pressure and cholesterol, and generally make us feel happier. So why do you need an official ESA letter if everyone can experience these same benefits?
The simple and honest answer is that not everyone needs an emotional support animal. ESAs are treated like prescriptions, intended only for the people who suffer a severe impairment that affects their ability to live a normal daily life. Yes, your pet might make you happy, encourage you to exercise more, and help you lead a healthier lifestyle. But if you can also do those things without a pet, then you don’t need an emotional support animal.
Getting an ESA letter is a defining difference between pets and emotional support animals (more on this in a later section). While anyone can get a pet, emotional support animals are on a need-only basis.
And because we’re talking directly about real health issues, only a healthcare provider can decide whether an emotional support animal will be part of an effective treatment plan.
Only a healthcare professional can write an ESA letter. But aside from this, what else makes an ESA letter valid?
For ESA letters to be legally recognized, they need to contain the following:
Any ESA letter lacking one or more of these elements might be believed to be fake or invalid. This could be the difference between having your rights recognized or denied.
Once you receive your letter, you will need to maintain a current copy of the letter to continue enjoying its benefits. Typically, letters “expire” after one year. At this point, you will need to reconnect with a licensed mental healthcare provider to ensure this treatment is still recommended for you. It’s very much like getting a prescription renewed by your doctor, as conditions and needs can change over time.
Many areas of healthcare taking a remote approach, and this includes the way you obtain an ESA letter. The simple answer is yes, you can get an ESA letter online.
Using online services like Therapy Pet to get your ESA letter is helping to create a more accessible process for all. We connect you directly to a healthcare provider in your state who is licensed to speak with you and recommend treatments, including an emotional support animal. There’s no transportation barrier in visiting a local provider, plus it reduces the stigma that many people feel when seeking help in person. You don’t have to worry about someone recognizing you in a provider’s office, for example.
Therapy Pet also saves you valuable time in finding a healthcare practitioner who can help you. Not all healthcare personnel are authorized to write ESA letters. The last thing you’d want is to spend time and money on an in-office visit only to find that the person cannot write an ESA letter. We connect you with health professionals who have helped multiple patients receive their ESA letters and can do the same for you if they recommend it.
Interested in getting your ESA letter online? Click here to get started or keep reading to learn more about Therapy Pet’s process:
At Therapy Pets, we conduct a brief 5-minute screening to see if you might qualify for an emotional support animal. We do this initial screening because we believe in setting the stage for all involved. This way, you know if you might qualify before speaking to a licensed mental health professional.
Therapy Pets offers two types of ESA letters: one for housing and one for travel. Choose the type of letter you need, or feel free to choose both. This is ideal for many because you can fill multiple needs in a single place. We value convenience just as much as you do, so make sure your needs are known by your provider so you can get the best possible outcome.
As part of our focus on convenience, we connect you directly with a licensed mental health professional in your state. This is your opportunity to chat with your provider to see if an emotional support animal is right for you. Share any details about your condition and why you think an ESA might be beneficial. The more thorough you are, the better assessment they can make regarding treatment options for your condition.
If your licensed mental health professional approves you for an ESA letter, you can receive it in the mail in as little as 72 hours with expedited options. The reason we mail them is that every letter is written for the individual. Letters are signed by your provider as part of the validation process.
Once you receive your ESA letter in the mail, you can start using it when applying for housing, bringing a pet into your existing rental home, or traveling with your emotional support animal.
Therapy Pets has been connecting individuals to healthcare providers for ESA letters for many years. We take an online-first approach to this process so that everyone who can benefit from an emotional support animal can enjoy access to this treatment option. But because we are an online service provider, one of the questions we commonly receive is why we don’t offer digital downloads of ESA letters on the spot.
It sounds like a logical request, one that would surely streamline the process and allow you to receive your letter faster. But there’s a reason why this simply isn’t possible: for an ESA letter to be legitimate, it needs to contain the healthcare provider’s signature and be printed on their letterhead.
The patients we work with suffer enough on a daily basis. They don’t need the extra hassles of having the validity of their ESA letters questioned. A digital signature and copied letterhead can look like a scam, especially since there are scam websites out there selling fake ESA letters. We think that’s doing our customers a disservice, and we aim to simplify your life, not make it more complicated.
That’s why we only offer hard-copy, official letters straight from your licensed mental health professional. We believe this is the best way to ensure that you run into no issues when presenting your letter to anyone who requests it.
That said, please exercise caution with any website offering instant ESA letters. These are often scams and they prey upon some of our most vulnerable individuals.
If you have a mental or emotional health condition, you may have considered the benefits of an emotional support animal. Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to explore the process of obtaining an ESA letter. But many people we work with stop short because they aren’t sure what to say to their therapist or doctor.
This is a common roadblock we see with Therapy Pet users, one that we’re working hard to help others overcome. For some, asking your doctor to prescribe a support animal feels a lot like asking them to prescribe a specific medication. It just doesn’t feel right! If your doctor wanted you to have a support pet, wouldn’t they just tell you?
Not necessarily. Sometimes, it’s helpful to bring up the subject to your doctor and put it on their radar. There are many different ways to treat different mental health conditions. If you’re interested in exploring an emotional support animal as a treatment avenue, then it’s completely acceptable to bring it up with your doctor.
If you already have a trusted doctor or mental healthcare provider, they are already familiar with your health history and condition. They have the benefit of knowing what medications you’re on, the non-medical treatments you’ve tried, and how your condition impacts your daily life. All of these things bring you closer to deciding if an ESA should be part of the mix.
And if you don’t already have someone providing care for a mental health condition, an ESA letter can be an excellent ice breaker. You can’t get an ESA letter without speaking to a health professional. This can help you take the next step to receive all-around treatment for your condition.
To start, you’ll need to schedule a consultation with a mental health practitioner or use a service like Therapy Pets and we’ll remotely connect you with someone licensed in your state. From there, you can discuss your symptoms and discover their recommendations. Ask them if they’ve seen patients gain good results from having an emotional support animal. Tell your doctor you’d like to consider the option for yourself and see what they have to say.
Rest assured that your doctor will only recommend an emotional support pet if they think it’s the right option for you.
Truth be told, you don’t always need an ESA letter to enjoy the benefits of an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are not trained to perform specific tasks or functions. They don’t go through a certification process like therapy dogs do. And unlike service animals, which are restricted to just dogs and miniature horses, just about any animal can be an emotional support animal.
The difference depends on whether you suffer from a mental or emotional health condition that is so severe it impacts your ability to live a normal life. For example, your social anxiety keeps you from engaging with other people, or your PTSD makes it hard for you to live independently. Emotional support animals help to alleviate these symptoms so you can function better.
With this in mind, your current pet might also become your emotional support animal. If it provides you with comfort in times of need and improves your daily quality of life, then that’s really all that matters. An ESA letter isn’t going to change this. But it can make your life easier.
Emotional support animals are typically prescribed by a mental health professional as part of a treatment plan. This matters if you are a renter and need permission for your emotional support animal to live with you. Having a mental health diagnosis and an official ESA letter eliminates this housing barrier for you.
It may offer benefits when traveling, too. Though airlines are no longer required by law to allow emotional support animals to fly with you in the cabin for free, many airlines still offer this as a guest courtesy. The ESA letter is all the documentation you need.
It’s also worth noting that a person who has more than one pet might only consider one of them to be their emotional support animal. The animal’s role is to alleviate symptoms related to their condition, and it might be that only one special animal does this.
So while pets may bring joy to their owners’ lives, cheer you up when you’re feeling down, and provide friendly companionship, not all pets are emotional support animals. This designation is reserved for pets of individuals who suffer from a serious mental or emotional disorder.
We’ve already established that only a licensed mental healthcare practitioner can issue an ESA letter. So why are there so many fake letters to be wary of?
The rising interest in emotional support animals has naturally opened the floodgates for fake companies to cash in on a lucrative opportunity. Unfortunately, these companies prey on some of the population’s most vulnerable individuals — those who are seeking help for mental conditions and want the easiest and fastest way forward.
There’s also the misunderstanding that just anyone can get an ESA letter, which we know is not the case. People are piqued by the prospect of avoiding airline pet fees or apartment pet deposits. They also mistakenly believe that with an ESA letter, their pet will be granted the same privileges as a service animal — another myth we know is not true.
As long as there are people who are able to be fooled, there will be unscrupulous companies out there trying to sell them an overpriced sheet of paper.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can spot a fake ESA letter:
First, make sure the letter is written by a licensed mental health professional. The letter will be printed on their official letterhead and include their name, license number, and contact details.
Also, you must have spoken with the healthcare provider prior to receiving an ESA letter. Any website or company promising you can instantly receive your letter without first having a professional evaluation is lying to you.
Something else to check for is the language used in the letter. A fake ESA letter will use words like “therapy pet” or “service dog” rather than the correct term, emotional support animal. It will likely lack certain pieces of information, such as an official diagnosis and explicit recommendation for an ESA.
Companies that offer ESA kits are also causes for concern. ESAs do not need official vests, tags, or certificates. These are often just for show. Companies try to sell them to you, saying it makes your pet look more “official.” But since ESAs do not get the same treatment as service animals and therefore shouldn’t be expected to be accommodated in public places, these “kits” are wholly unnecessary.
Bottom line: don’t fall into the trap that you can take your pet anywhere. Don’t buy into promises that your pet will always fly for free or that anyone can get an ESA letter in minutes. None of it is true, and these claims undermine the real value that an ESA can bring to the right person.
When a mental or emotional health condition affects your ability to live a normal life, it’s essential to explore all possible avenues of treatment. Finding something that improves your condition is key to living life to the fullest.
At Therapy Pet, we are helping others break down boundaries that prevent them from getting the treatment they need. Our approach is completely online, allowing you to connect with a licensed healthcare provider in your state who is authorized to speak with you about your condition, diagnose you, and recommend an emotional support animal as part of your treatment. You don’t have to leave your house, sacrifice your privacy, or endure the time-consuming process of finding a mental health professional who can help you.
If you’re ready to see if you might qualify for an emotional support animal, we invite you to take our quick 5-minute assessment. It’s the first step in obtaining your ESA letter and can help you start your journey toward a happier, healthier you! Click here to start now.