Emotional Support Animals

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Emotional support animals, or ESA’s, aid people with medical or mental health issues. ESAs are usually dogs, but can be cats or other animals. They help with detecting blood sugar spikes in diabetics, protect children who have seizures and they also have great success in assisting people with emotional trauma, PTSD and anxiety issues.  The Veterans Administration in the U.S. recommends both canine and equine therapy for returning servicemen and women.

It’s long been understood that people who have pets are less lonely, less isolated, more relaxed and generally happier overall. There is a great deal of scientific data to support the beneficial nature of having an animal as a pet. Simply the act of stroking a cat or walking a dog can have long lasting benefits to physical and mental health. Simply having a pet beside you can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and give you a feeling of happiness. Add in the visuals (cuteness factor), softness (tactile sensation) and the feeling of accomplishment it gives to fulfill the responsibility of taking care of another living being; the unconditional love you receive, and the entertainment value of interacting with a pet, and you’ve got a recipe for happiness and improved health.

The Couples Expert has been using therapy dogs for a number of years. I am on my 2nd dog, a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Jax that I adopted from the Desert Lab Rescue near my practice. My first therapy dog, Ollie, lived out his life with us and was a valued partner in my office counseling practice.

Training a therapy dog is not only good for the dog, but for the trainer as well. When I bring my dog into a therapy session, I am confident that he will act according to his training and his inherent love of people and huge heart.

Dogs are extremely sensitive and intuitive animals. They react to things unsaid, body language, and can read a person’s anxiety level immediately. They are the first to approach a person who is upset or sad. Simply being with them is a comfort. People are more likely to let down their guard and open up in counseling when emotions run high if the therapy dog is supporting them. Their value in counseling sessions cannot be understated.

I’m sure you’ve heard the recent controversy about emotional support animals being banned from airlines etc. The rules limit passengers to a few emotional support animals. There is a trend lately that unscrupulous people will pay $100 on the internet to receive a false ESA certificate for their animal to allow them access to places only ESAs can go. Unfortunately, this is a negative for those of us who need and use authentic emotional support dogs. There’s a great deal of time and training that goes into making a true ESA, and there’s great value attached to the services and support they provide.

I have seen the good having an ESA in my practice does and will continue to use my therapy partner Jax in my practice for years to come.


About the Author:

Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships. As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel and by subscription in Stuart's Daily Notes. Stuart is happily married and a devoted father of 2 daughters. His office practice serves the greater Phoenix, Arizona area including the cities of Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.