Working with Emotional Support Animals

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, October 07, 2020
By Mirta Pont, LCSW,

A few years ago I treated a client with Complex PTSD. She had suffered for the majority of her childhood from physical, psychological, and emotional abuse.  One day she said to me, “I don’t know what the feeling of love is and when someone says I love you, I don’t believe it”.  As a human being, it is hard for me to hear this and as a therapist, it is bewildering.  What do you do with that?

I often thought while in my sessions with her, “I wish I had a pet in my office.  I have a feeling that would help.” I think that clients are more likely to explore vulnerable feelings with an animal than humans. At some point, I suggested to the client that she get an emotional support animal (ESA) to bring healing into her life.  She did and now Sammi comes in with her as well to do good work.


The research shows that ESAs bring joy and unconditional love to individuals (not to mention companionship.)  This good feeling can warm even the toughest person’s heart, not to mention, the endorphins they release in the brain.

Here are some issues helped by an (ESAs):

  • PTSD
  • Mild to severe anxiety, including fear of flying
  • Agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home)
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Social shyness

I’ve written many letters for my clients who truly need this emotional support and I’d like to differentiate between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal.  A service dog is specially trained to perform a function for an owner that has a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability. There can be a high cost in training a service animal that is not the same for an emotional support dog.  An emotional support animal serves as a companion for the owner and is not trained in a task as the Service Animal.

There are specific requirements and laws such as the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act that provide rights and limits to both, businesses and dwellings as well as to individuals with ESAs and service animals.

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Healing happens in different ways. – Mirta Pont