Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s)

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal that a medical professional recommends for a patient, to provide support for a person with a mental emotional condition that could be considered a disability due to limiting the person’s day to day activities, and/or adversely impacting the person’s mental or emotional health. Emotional support animals are typically dogs, but are sometimes cats or other animals.

People who qualify for emotional support animals have verifiable psychological disabilities that substantially interfere with major life activities, such as anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, or panic attacks.

An emotional support animal is not the same as a service animal. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks.(seeing eye dogs, seizure-sensing dogs, or dogs who perform simple tasks for a physically disabled person ). Emotional support animals typically receive no specific training and are not required to do so. Any animal that provides support, well-being, or comfort to an individual through companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, and affection may be regarded as an emotional support animal. In the US, disabled people with emotional support animals are exempted from certain rules against having animals in most housing and travel situations.

According to United States federal law, owners of emotional support animals must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a letter from a healthcare provider stating that they are being treated for a disabling condition and that their emotional support animal improves or benefits some component of the person’s disability.

Here at Thriveworks Blacksburg, we understand the comfort and companionship that such animals provide, and we believe in the therapeutic value of such animals. Many clients have benefited and improved greatly from their relationship with their ESA.

However, we do take this subject very seriously, and we do not hand out letters recommending Emotional Support Animals based solely on a person’s request for one.

We have several requirements before a Thriveworks Blacksburg clinician would “prescribe” an ESA. These requirements are in compliance with state and federal laws, Codes of Ethics, and Thriveworks policies.

Some of the standards we follow include:

  • The client’s disability/condition must limit his/her day to day activities, and have an adverse impact the person’s mental or emotional health.
  • Confirm that the client’s emotional disability restricts them from daily participating or completing at least one significant activity (Walking, talking, seeing, hearing, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning, working).
  • The ESA must be determined by the clinician to be an integral part of treatment of the client’s current condition.
  • The patient must meet the definition of a person with a disability.
  • It must be substantiated that the client has a disability (see below).
  • It must be established that the support animal is necessary.
  • The client must have an established relationship with our clinician, in order for the clinician to ethically and intentionally recommend that the ESA is in the client’s best interest for improvement and stability and is an integral part of the patient’s mental health treatment.


If you would like to consult with one of our clinicians to begin the process of determining whether or not an Emotional Support Animal would be a substantially beneficial part of your therapy, just call today to schedule an appointment with one of our expert, caring professionals at 540-376-3348.


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