Emotional support animals (ESAs), and therapists writing ESA letters for clients, are frequent topics around here. After years of overuse, the FAA allowed airlines to ban ESAs from passenger cabins early this year, and every major domestic airline has done so. Now California has developed new rules for therapists wanting to write ESA letters, most commonly for clients who want an ESA in a housing situation that does not allow pets.
If you’re a counselor or therapist, there’s a good chance you’ve had at least one client ask you for a letter that would designate their pet as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). There’s also a good chance they didn’t really need it.
ESAs are allowed in airplane cabins and in housing situations that otherwise do not allow pets or charge extra fees. Beyond that, very few standards govern what an ESA is or does. ESAs are not service animals and do not need any training or certification. All someone needs to have their pet be an ESA is a letter from a qualified therapist. But there’s no law or standard to help a therapist determine whether to write that letter.
Note: The following opinion is a lightly-edited excerpt from the fourth edition of Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs. Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letters are discussed in one of the book’s “Room for Debate” segments, alongside Emma Jaegle’s counterargument supporting therapists writing ESA letters. Note the update at the bottom of this post.