Who Can Write an ESA Letter?

Deciding that you’d like to pursue treatment for your mental health is a big step. There are many different treatments available to help you in your day-to-day life that you can explore with a doctor.

One way of managing symptoms of certain mental health conditions has been growing in popularity a lot lately: emotional support animals. Though not service animals, these animal companions help their humans manage stress, depression, panic attacks, and other symptoms.

While any pet can be beneficial for someone’s mental health, having a designated emotional support animal can be helpful. The first step to having your pet identified as an ESA is to have a doctor write a prescription letter for you.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the process and answer common questions about registering ESAs.

Why Register Your ESA?

As mentioned, any pet can act as an emotional support animal. ESAs, unlike service animals, do not have to undergo special training and certification testing to help you. However, there are some benefits to registering your ESA.

Housing Benefits

Under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals have legal protections when it comes to rental housing. While landlords have the right to ban pets on their property, service animals and emotional support animals are categorized differently.

If you have no proof that your pet is an emotional support animal, you can be denied housing in pet-free apartments, but registering your pet as an ESA can create an exception. This includes housing in college dorms.

Travel Benefits

When traveling, you will likely need your ESA by your side. Traveling with pets can be banned by hotels, and fees can be incurred by hotels and airlines when allowed. Service animals are always exempt from these restrictions, and while not the same as service animals, emotional support animals can have some exemptions as well.

It varies by location, hotel chain, and airline. Presenting proof of ESA registration can be helpful. In some cases, it can result in reduced or removed pet fees.

How to Register an ESA

Since there are many potential benefits to registering your emotional support animal, more people are opting to do it. Most, however, don’t know where to start.

Choose Your Emotional Support Animal

Some people may decide to select a pet with the intention of having them become an emotional support animal. For many, though, they have a pet who naturally starts to fulfill that role for them.

Either way, the animal and your relationship with them is the key. They must be well-trained so that you can take them into a variety of different settings without it becoming stressful for either of you. Building trust between you and your ESA is what makes the relationship work.

Obtain an ESA Prescription Letter

Once you have decided to register your pet as an emotional support animal, you will need a prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional. This is required to qualify your ESA for exemption from pet-free housing.

Register Your Legally Valid Emotional Support Animal

Many people like the convenience of going a step further and having their animal added to the national registry for ESAs. This provides you with an ID card you can always carry with you. Registration also comes with the benefit of legal resources for people with ESAs.

What Is an ESA Prescription Letter?

Just like a prescription for a medication, they will write you a prescription for an ESA as part of your treatment plan. This letter must include certain information for it to qualify you for protection under the Fair Housing Act.

This letter should include information about the mental health condition you have been diagnosed with and how it qualifies you to have an ESA. The letter should be clear about the fact that the emotional support animal is part of your treatment.

A qualified medical professional should know how to write this letter so that it complies with legal requirements.

Who Can Write a Prescription Letter?

There are many different kinds of medical professionals, so you may be wondering which ones qualify. Some states have additional requirements beyond being a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

Potential Requirements for a Prescription Letter

In some states, you must be under an LMHP’s care for at least 30 days before they can provide you with a prescription letter. This is to ensure that they have taken the time to diagnose you and choose the correct method of treatment.

In most cases, a face-to-face evaluation is required, whether in-person or via a telehealth visit. While restrictions vary by state, some doctors may face a penalty if they don’t ensure you meet certain diagnostic criteria. This can dissuade doctors from even offering this service, particularly to new clients, making it challenging. If this is the case, it’s best to ask a doctor with whom you have developed a relationship over time.

It’s usually best to choose an LMHP who operates in your state so that they know what the specific requirements are. If LMPH has no experience with emotional support animals, they may be able to give you a referral to someone who does.

If you aren’t currently under the treatment of an LMHP, you can ask your family doctor for help. In some cases, they may have the necessary qualifications to write you a prescription letter themselves. In other cases, they can help you find a mental health professional who is covered by your insurance to give you long-term support.

Avoid Scams

Unfortunately, there are online scams that try to sell prescription letters from doctors who are not qualified or do not meet these requirements.

If a service offers to sell you a prescription letter from a doctor you have never interacted with, that’s a red flag. It can also be a bad sign if it’s extremely cheap or only requires you to fill out an online form to receive a letter.

If your prescription letter is not from a real doctor, your request will be rejected and your housing rights will not be protected.

There are reputable online services for getting a prescription letter. These services will match you with a licensed physician for an evaluation. They will be aware of the laws in your state and they will be able to provide you with the appropriate credentials.

LMHPs Who Can Write ESA Letters

Here is a guide to the Licensed Mental Health Professionals who can write prescription letters for emotional support animals. Always check your state’s specific requirements to make sure that the doctor you choose will be able to provide you with the kind of treatment you need, including an ESA prescription letter.

Therapists, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists

These are the most well-known LMHP roles. Both focus on treating mental health conditions in a variety of patients, but there are slight differences in what they can do.

Therapists provide mental health support to people who are struggling. They may have a diagnosable mental health condition, or they may simply be trying to better themselves and how they cope with challenges. There are many different therapy styles to help a variety of people to work through their issues.

Psychologists can provide ongoing treatment to people with different illnesses and disorders, but they often are used to officially diagnose patients so that a treatment plan can be developed. They cannot prescribe drugs to clients.

Psychiatrists perform a very similar role to psychologists, but they can also prescribe medications. Any of these professionals can provide ESA prescription letters as long as they meet the state’s requirements.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Counselors

Social workers provide support to people in a variety of challenging situations that can affect mental health. If a social worker pursues more education and passes a licensing exam, they become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Many LCSWs work in hospitals.

This license qualifies them to work in a more therapeutic way with clients who have mental health or substance abuse disorders. They can provide a diagnosis and write a prescription letter for emotional support animals.

Similarly, a licensed counselor is also qualified to write an ESA letter in most states. These counselors provide similar services as therapists to clients with mental health and behavioral issues, typically specializing in a specific area, such as marriage counseling or grief counseling.

While they are not legally allowed to write prescriptions for medication, they can provide you with an ESA prescription letter if they believe it will benefit their client’s mental health goals.

Registered Nurses and Psychiatric Nurses

Any nurse who has received training and certification to work with patients suffering from psychiatric disorders may be qualified to write an ESA letter. At this level of certification, in many states, a nurse can prescribe and administer prescription medication.

Check your state laws to confirm, but this often qualifies nurses to write ESA prescription letters as well.

Can a Family Doctor Write a Prescription Letter?

In some cases, your family doctor or primary care physician may be able to write you an ESA prescription letter. In states where the laws are stricter or in cases where your doctor does not feel comfortable evaluating your mental health, they will usually give you a referral.

If you have been seeing your doctor for a while and they are familiar with your mental health condition, particularly in the way it affects your physical health, they may be willing to write you a letter. You can always call the office and request an appointment specifically to talk about whether you qualify for an ESA. This gives them time to prepare and research the laws in your state.

Can a School Counselor Write a Prescription Letter?

Schools have counselors on staff to help students cope with personal and behavioral challenges. They can also provide help for students to apply for college or choose a career path.

Unfortunately, though, a school counselor cannot provide an ESA letter, even if they believe it would benefit the student. In this case, the student is not the counselor’s patient. They don’t have a doctor-patient relationship that would qualify the counselor to write a prescription letter. School counselors may not always have the medical or mental health qualifications required by law either.

Understand Your Options for an ESA Letter

While it can be challenging to know where to begin when it comes to registering your emotional support animal, there are a lot of options. It’s important to educate yourself on your state’s laws regarding ESAs and who can prescribe them. In many cases, there are a variety of medical professionals who can qualify to write you an ESA prescription letter.

If you don’t know where to begin, it’s best to start by speaking to your primary care physician or finding a reputable online service. This can get you in contact with a medical professional who can help you through the process.

The benefits of having a registered emotional support animal are undeniable, and the process is not as daunting as you might think. Don’t hesitate to get started today.