If You Want To Get An Emotional Support Dog, Here Are The 5 Requirements

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Of all the treatments out there for emotional and mental health, one that is not mentioned as frequently is the possibility of getting an emotional support dog. But having a furry friend to aide in your mental and emotional well-being might be a very real option. So what are the requirements to get an emotional support dog, exactly?

Well, first of all, according to the American Kennel Club, to be a legitimate emotional support animal, "the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, for example, must decide that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient."

And it is important to note, as the AKC points out, that although ESAs provide support through companionship and can help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias, they are not the same as service dogs and won't have the same rights as an animal who is performing tasks to aide in their owners disabilities.

As for whether or not it might be a potential choice for you, you should get some committed, long-term guidance from a mental healthcare provider. Below, take a look at the requirements and qualifications for getting an emotional support dog.


Check In With Yourself And Consider Why An ESD Might Be A Good Option

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First and foremost, considering the ways an ESD might be a good option for your mental health support system is probably the most important. What is going on in your life that caring for an animal and having a constant companion might ease?

"Some common examples are if you went through a traumatic experience you may feel anxiety and worry often," psychotherapist Courtney Glashow, LCSW tells Bustle. "If you get an ESD, you can pet your dog and have them sit with you as comfort."

If someone is feeling depressed or anxious, Glashow says, they may not take care of themselves well. But they still have to take care of their dog.

"Having an ESD will force you to get dressed, leave your home, and take your dog out for a walk a few times a day," Glashow says. "This is huge if you are so depressed you can't leave your bed. Having an ESD will also give you purpose and meaning in your life."


You Want To Have A Consistent Relationship With A Therapist

Generally, an ESD is an option that you will come to along with a mental healthcare provider with whom you have a relationship.

"From the psychotherapist's side, we will have to get to know you as the client very well to see what is going on with your mental health and to see how your dog can really help you cope with your symptoms," Glashow says. "There needs to be a medically necessary reason as to why you need an ESD."


You Will Need A Mental Health Diagnosis

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"You will need a mental health diagnosis [to get an ESD]," Glashow says. "Some examples of diagnoses would be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and so on."

And beware, there are some companies out there that offer you a one-time interview with a licensed mental health professional for a large payment to get you an ESA letter, Glashow says. But those are a big red flag, not to mention unethical.

"The clinician can't know you after just one visit and the only reason you seek therapy shouldn't be just for an ESD," Glashow says. "It really is just an add-on to therapy."


You Need A Letter From A Qualified Mental Health Care Professional

The letter is the main and most important piece in the process of actually getting an ESD, and it goes hand-in-hand with getting an assessment to see if this is the best option for your mental and emotional needs.

"You can ask your current psychotherapist if you see one," Glashow says. While some are not comfortable writing these letters if they don't have training or experience in it, Glashow says, they can help connect you to one that is more familiar with the process.


You Need To Keep Up With The ESD Letters From Year To Year

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Usually an ESD letter expires after only a year, so ideally you will see a therapist continually who can provide this letter for you as needed, Glashow says.

"You want to think of it like a doctor providing a refill prescription. The medical necessity will need to be there annually."

If getting an ESD or an ESA feels like the right idea for you, that's great, and you can start on the process to getting one! There is nothing quite like companionship and unconditional love from a pup.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

This post has been updated for clarity and accuracy.

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