Emotional Support Animals


Mental health providers are occasionally approached by people seeking a letter validating the need for an emotional support animal.  Emotional support animals are different from service animals, and there is often some confusion about the difference.  Service animals are trained to provide a particular type of assistance for a disability.  Often, the need for service animals will continue as an ongoing phenomenon. For example, a visually impaired person will continue to benefit from a seeing-eye dog.  An emotional support animal, on the other hand, is by definition a short-term source of emotional support while working to overcome emotional issues. The guidelines for best practices in my profession recommend the following:

1.       Evaluation to determine that the anxiety or other symptoms are at a clinical level

2.       Evaluation to determine that the presence of the support animal significantly reduce the anxiety or other symptoms and

3.       A treatment plan is established and being followed to reduce and eventually eliminate the need for the emotional support animal.

In other words, then, having an emotional support animal is meant to be a temporary situation that the client is actively working to end.  You would be hard at work with your therapist, following a treatment protocol to reduce the reliance on your animal’s presence to handle anxiety/other symptoms.  Successful treatment would mean no longer needing an emotional support animal.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder and are considering an emotional support animal, please consult your therapist to see if this is an appropriate phase of treatment.  I have not had specialized training in assessing for the efficacy of an emotional support animal and am not able to offer such assessments.

(the picture here is of my cat, Darcy, who died at age 14 in October, 2018)

Thoughts from Recent Talks...

Things to do before you start counseling

Like packing efficiently for a trip or gathering your ingredients before you begin baking, some simple preparation will improve your experience in counseling.

1.       If it’s been more than six months, have a physical exam to rule out any physical problems, receive guidance on exercise and nutrition, and to learn about any medication side effects that may be a concern.

2.       If the paperwork is provided in advance, please complete it thoughtfully and thoroughly. It’s all important; we don’t ask for information that isn’t useful for us in helping you!

3.       Take time to think about your goals in therapy; how will you know that it has been helpful?

4.       Make a commitment to be honest with yourself and your therapist during the process.

5.       Be prepared for it to sometimes be painful, aggravating, anxiety-provoking, and also funny, challenging, interesting and boring, too!  Let your counselor know what you’re experiencing.