Emotional Support Companions (ESC) or therapy dogs are often used as supportive service animals to assist someone with their mental or physical health. Services animals are working companions that have been trained to assist mentally or physically disabled people with day to day functions for both general and specific tasks.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) supports the use of assistance animals and requires businesses, agencies, and organizations to reinforce practices that make accommodations for people with disabilities, including the use of supportive services which include therapy animals.
It is important to note, ESCs and therapy dogs are not always considered government recognized service animals. A service animal is a therapeutic companion that has been specifically trained to provide physical or psychiatric support. If the animal has not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
The ADA provides an example of the use of services animals for mental health support saying, “if a dog the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal” (ADA.gov).
Service animals can be helpful in assisting an individual with a range of mental health symptoms. Services animals, particularly therapy dogs, have been shown to be helpful in assisting individuals with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
A therapy dog can offer support to a person in a variety of ways. Each services animal can be taught specific prompts or actions to perform before, during, or after the onset of mental health symptoms.
For example, services animals or therapy dogs can perform certain actions to assist in alleviating symptoms of mental health issues like:
"Is a Therapy Dog Right for Me?"
Independently owning a service animal can be a great deal of responsibility. Owning an animal does require a lot of work due to their dependency and need for attention and care which may be difficult for a person with severe mental illness or mood instability.
In order to determine whether a therapy dog is a good option for assistive support you should seek direct communication with a doctor or mental health provider. In most cases you will need to include documentation from a mental health professional (licensed therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists) to the organization to verify it is of medical necessity.
If your motivation to have a service animal is based in a desire to recover, you will need to work with a therapy animal that has proper training or certification (which will most likely be an older dog that is limited on breed selection). Keep in mind it may be costly.
You can access further information on California based, certified services animals and therapy dogs at:
Raquel Buchanan is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT #118976) in Palm Springs, Ca. Raquel has experience providing animal assisted therapy and is an advocate for emotional support companions and service animals. Raquel provides counseling and therapy services to individuals, children, families, and adults. She specializes in treating self esteem issues related to childhood abuse. For more information on therapy services please visit www.TherapywithRaquel.com
In Loving Memory of Tasha
Raquel Buchanan is a mental health profession in southern California who blogs about life and relationships. Raquel is on a mission to spread awareness about the impact of violence, abuse, and trauma. The information contained on this site is for entertainment purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional assistance. Contents contained in these blogs are based on true stories or the experiences of several several people and are fictional. Identifying information has been changed to protect the anonymity and confidentiality of therapy patients.