Skip to main content
Accessibility|Contact|Privacy|Terms of Service

Certifying Emotional Support Animals

  • Published: 2017-05-18 : Author: University of Missouri-Columbia : Contact: missouri.edu
  • Synopsis: University of Missouri-Columbia study reveals recommendations for certifying emotional support animals.

Main Document

"An ESA usually provides companionship, relieves loneliness and sometimes helps with anxiety or depression."

Service animals help owners navigate daily tasks and often have years of training to help them serve disability-related functions. However, little consensus exists when it comes to the certification of "emotional support animals" (ESAs).

These animals usually have little or no specific training, which poses a challenge for mental health professionals who are asked to certify them. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have conducted a survey to examine what techniques and instruments mental health professionals are using to aid in their determinations of whether certification of an ESA is appropriate. Researcher recommendations could help mental health practitioners make better judgments when certifying ESAs and steer policy-making decisions for housing and travel sectors.

"ESAs are legally different from service animals, such as guide dogs," said Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science. "An ESA usually provides companionship, relieves loneliness and sometimes helps with anxiety or depression. Although emotional support animals can be pets, they're not considered pets under the law and sometimes special accommodations must be afforded to individuals who have ESAs. Because of this requirement, owners seek out ways to get their pets certified without thinking about the ramifications of their actions."

Federal and state laws regulating ESAs often are convoluted and ever-changing.

Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology, conducted a survey to examine what techniques and instruments mental health professionals are using to aid in their determinations of whether certification of an ESA is appropriate. Photo Credit: MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
About This Image: Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology, conducted a survey to examine what techniques and instruments mental health professionals are using to aid in their determinations of whether certification of an ESA is appropriate. Photo Credit: MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
For example, landlords who normally prohibit pets must allow ESAs and waive any fees or pet deposits. Airlines are required to allow ESAs to accompany their owners in the main cabins of aircraft. As a result, it can be implied that some patients who claim they need ESAs are doing so to "buck the system," causing a dilemma for mental health professionals who often are tasked with certifying these animals, Boness says.

Boness, working with Jeffrey Younggren, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at MU, surveyed 87 mental health professionals, 31 percent of whom have made ESA recommendations. Survey participants were required to read ESA policies, including the Department of Transportation's requirements for airline travel. Participants then answered questions about the certifying process.

The survey demonstrated that both clinical and forensic practitioners are making ESA recommendations; both groups believe certifying ESAs is appropriate for treating patients. Results and recommendations from the study indicate that clinicians should not certify ESAs and doing so can trigger ethical and legal challenges, including a pending case in Colorado, Younggren says.

Based on their findings, Boness and Younggren recommend that:

"A clinical practitioner's primary goal is treatment; often, personal relationships with their clients can lead to biased assessments and a willingness to certify ESAs," Younggren said. "Forensic psychologists, such as those who give expert testimony on mental capacity in court, often use comprehensive methods to assess patients. These mental health professionals generally don't have relationships with those they are assessing, are much more objective and are likely to certify ESAs correctly."

The study, "The Certification of Emotional Support Animals: Differences between Clinical and Forensic Mental Health Practitioners," has been accepted for publication in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

Similar Topics

1 : Dogs with Fear of Noises Should be Assessed for Pain : University of Lincoln.
2 : Study Finds Therapy Dogs Help Stressed University Students : University of British Columbia.
3 : Free Eye Exams to Service and Working Animals in May from Veterinary Ophthalmologists : Jillian Spitz.
4 : Service Dogs Associated with Lower PTSD Symptoms Among War Veterans : Megan Huckaby.
5 : National Federation of the Blind Statement on Delta's New Service Animal Policy : National Federation of the Blind.
From our Service Animals section - Full List (67 Items)


Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.


Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.





1 : Teaching Baby Sign Language - Nita, Show Us More
2 : MitoQ Novel Antioxidant Makes Old Arteries Seem Young Again
3 : Telemedicine Helps Overcome Healthcare Gender Based Barriers
4 : Screen Reader Plus Keyboard Helps Blind, Low-Vision Users Browse Modern Webpages
5 : Our Digital Remains Should be Treated with Same Care and Respect as Physical Remains
6 : Tungsten: Concern Over Possible Health Risk by Human Exposure to Tungsten
7 : Student Loan Discharge Process for Disabled Veterans Made Easier
8 : Growing Bone and Cartilage Tissues for Humans from Flaxseed Like Particles


Disclaimer: This site does not employ and is not overseen by medical professionals. Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.

© 2004 - 2018 Disabled World™