As a therapist that provides Animal Assisted Therapy, I see the value in Emotional Support Animals (ESA) and the wonderful benefit they have in the lives of those struggling with mental health. I provide ESA Letters for clients that need this assistance for airline travel and/or housing, etc.
However, this is a service that is extremely abused today and not something to be taken lightly. I have included some helpful information about the process below. Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns!
I do not provide ESA Evaluations and letters as a stand alone service. It is always in conjunction with therapy services and used as part of the treatment goals established in therapy with clients of Trauma Therapy of Nashville. If your therapist would like resources or consultation around providing you an ESA Letter, please have them email me at Melanie@TraumaTherapyNashville.com.
The law requires that you are under the current care of a practitioner. Melanie offers the following options:
- If you need to establish care, you may do so with a therapist at Trauma Therapy of Nashville (depending on availability of practitioners) or any practitioner of your choosing.
- Once treatment goals are established with a provider, Melanie can consult with your therapist and provide resources for them to do your assessment and issue a letter. The evaluation fee is a standard session fee for the therapist you are working with. The fee for letter writing, assessment reading, etc is the session hourly rate (charged in increments of 15 min). Typically takes 30-45 min.
An ESA letter is issued to clients when the following requirements have been met:
- You are an active client of Trauma Therapy of Nashville and have an established treatment plan with a therapist in the practice. Evaluations are not offered to non-active clients.
The law also requires that the following items are in place to qualify for an ESA Letter:
- A diagnosis can be made for a mental health disability
- The animal is a vital part of relieving symptoms in your daily life
- The animal is needed to assist you with these tasks at your destination (when requesting a fly letter)
You would not fit the initial criteria for an ESA if the following are reasons for seeking an ESA Letter:
- You are traveling and do not want to pay the fee to have your animal on the plane.
- You want to have your animal with you all the time and take them to public spaces and events that animals are not allowed. (ESA Letters do not grant public access to animals)
- You just moved or plan to move to a place that doesn’t allow pets and do not want to pay the pet deposit
Service Animals vs Emotional Support Animals
Emotional Support / Comfort Animals
An emotional support animal, sometimes known as a comfort animal, may help provide support to an individual by helping mitigate symptoms of depression, relieving loneliness, and/or providing companionship.
Because emotional support animals are not trained to provide a service to a person with a disability, these animals are not covered by Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Emotional support animals do not have specialized training and these animals are not protected by the ADA.
A service animal is an animal that has received special training to help a person with a physical, sensory, cognitive or psychiatric disability. These animals are protected by Title II and Title III of the ADA. The work of the service animal must be directly related to the person’s disability and certification and documentation of this specialized training is required for purposes of the ADA. A letter from a doctor or other professional does not make the animal a verified service animal.
Examples of service animals include guide dogs, animals that assist persons with a hearing impairment, and animals that provide a signal of an impending seizure to persons with epilepsy.
Service animals are specially trained to help a person with a disability and are protected by the ADA.
HOUSING – TRAVEL – PUBLIC SPACES
Housing Rules Pertaining to Service and Emotional Support Animals
Under the ADA, the owner of a housing facility is required to allow a service animal on the premises.The owner is not allowed to charge a fee or deposit.
Additionally, owners of housing may be required to allow emotional support animals for persons with psychiatric or other disabilities. Landlords may require proof of disability and verification that the animal is an emotional support animal. An exception to this may be where a breed restriction by the landlord’s insurance company could cause his insurance to be dropped.
Travel Laws Pertaining to Service and Emotional Support Animals
Under the ADA, service animals must be allowed to travel with the person with a disability. The transportation provider may not charge a fee for the animal and the person with a disability is not required to provide prior notice.
Individuals wishing to travel with an emotional support animal on an airplane will be required to provide documentation from a licensed mental health professional stating the person’s mental health diagnosis. The required statement should explain that the animal is necessary for the person’s mental health functioning or treatment and that you are under the care of a licensed professional.
Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in Public Spaces
Verified service animals are covered by the ADA and must be permitted in public spaces such as restaurants and shopping centers.
Emotional support and therapy animals are not protected by the ADA and should not be allowed in public places unless the establishment permits pets or other animals.
The general public (and specifically pet owners) sometimes take advantage of the fact that ESA’s are allowed to accompany those that need their assistance. They may attempt to falsify documents or signage in order to bring their pets into these same public spaces. If this is ever found to be the case for a client under my care, your letter will be revoked.