Many people have heard the saying “a dog is a man’s best friend”. Well, if you have a mental health disorder this can feel even more true. People are familiar with the use of service dogs for physical disabilities like vision impairment, hearing impairment, and epilepsy. However, dogs can be used in the treatment of mental health disorders in the form of emotional support animals.
What is an Emotional Support Animal
An emotional support animal is an animal that is prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to assist in treating clients with a diagnosed mental health condition. Emotional support animals are not limited to dogs; they can also be cats, birds, snakes, gerbils, or fish, among others.
Emotional support animals serve their owners by providing support in dealing with issues like anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, PTSD, and depression. Emotional support animals provide relief from symptoms of anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, and PTSD by comforting their owners and providing them with a distraction from their triggers. They support their owners through feelings of depression by giving them a sense of purpose and unconditional love, which helps to boost their self-esteem.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals
Emotional support animals differ from service animals in several ways. Service animals are trained to perform certain tasks to help their owners overcome handicaps associated with their disabilities. For example, a service animal for a person with epilepsy will bark to notify their owner he or she is about to have a seizure so that they can sit down and prevent falling. They will also find someone to help their owner and stimulate their owner during the seizure. After the seizure, service dogs can retrieve food or medication for their owner and help stabilize them as they get up.
Emotional support animals are not trained to perform specific tasks to help the owner address symptoms of their mental health disorder. Because of this, emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service animals. They cannot accompany their owners wherever they go as service animals can. The rights of emotional support animals are limited to housing and air travel.
If you think an emotional support animal could help you in dealing with your mental health disorder, consider talking with a licensed mental health professional. The Light Program has many counselors on staff who are ready to help you today.