Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Assessment
Emotional Support Animal (ESA) forensic assessments
Lacamas Counseling offers an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) forensic assessment. If you have a mental health diagnosis based on the DSM-5 criteria and you have an animal that helps you cope with symptoms from that diagnosis, then you may qualify. The assessment consists of an evaluation of your diagnosis, the animals support, and education about ESAs. If appropriate, then an ESA letter of recommendation will be provided.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the purpose of an ESA letter?
The most common purpose of an ESA letter is to request a reasonable accommodation in your housing for your animal that has documented benefits in alleviating symptoms of your mental health diagnosis when standard limitations would limit the animal from being accessed.
How do I know if I have a diagnosis?
Mental health diagnoses are assessed using the Diagnostic Statistical Manual fifth edition. Some of the most common diagnoses for ESA justifications are anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias that cause impairment in life domains such as school, work, or relationships.
What is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?
Service animals are specifically trained to assist in certain tasks (i.e. seeing eye dogs, seizure-sensing dogs) and may have greater ADA public access and rights. An emotional support animal alleviates symptoms of a mental health diagnosis.
Does my pet have to be professionally trained to meet the guidelines for an ESA recommendation?
No, however it is important that the animal be well-behaved and that it does not pose a safety threat. It is recommended that dogs participate in a Good Citizens training or obedience class.
What kinds of animals can be approved as an ESA?
The most common ESAs are dogs and cats, however the Fair Housing Act allows for other common household animals such as birds, rabbits, turtles, fish, hamsters, gerbils, rodents, and other small animals.
Who can write an ESA letter?
It is best to find a provider who is trained in completing ESA forensic assessments. These providers will have received specific trainings, completed consultations, and be more aware of the rules and regulations with ESA recommendations and letters. The provider can be a therapist or medical provider. It is recommended that the assessor is not your primary counselor as this can lead to a dual-relationship and negatively impact the primary counseling relationship.
Does having an ESA letter mean I can go anywhere with my animal?
No, you must still comply with Federal and State laws. ESAs do not get an automatic legal right to accompany their owner in grocery stores, airplanes, restaurants, and hotels. It is important to check with any businesses, hotels, and airlines regarding their ESA policy and accomodations prior to your visit.
What are the risks of using an ESA letter?
Qualifying for an ESA letter will acknowledge that you have a mental health diagnosis that benefits from additional support and that you are accessing mental health services. Each person will have to decide their own comfort in disclosing their mental health status. College and University Housing requires more thorough and ongoing information, such as diagnosis, treatment records, and ongoing therapy.
Can I get an ESA letter for an animal I do not have yet?
Unfortunately, no. The assessment for the ESA includes evaluation of how your specific animal is supporting you to alleviate your symptoms from the mental health diagnosis.
Does my animal need to come to the appointment?
No, the assessment is based on what you report, so there is no need to bring the animal with you. You may find it helpful to bring to the assessment pictures or videos of how the animal supports you. Until you have been given an ESA letter, it may be best not bring the animal with you to any business that has limitations on animals.
What other steps are needed to authorize and validate my ESA?
An ESA letter is the only documentation needed when requesting housing accomodations. ESA letters are only valid for 12 months and will need to be reassessed if continued accommodations are requested. No other steps (i.e. vests, licenses, database registry) are required.
What are the laws that grant ESAs?
The main two laws that impact ESAs are The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988 (42 U.S.C. 3631, et seq.) and Title III of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).