University counseling centers all over the country have received increased requests from students to write letters stating that they have a mental health or medical condition that would benefit from the presence of an animal.
Most often these requests are made by students who report some kind of emotional distress or difficulty adjusting to the environment and would like to be able to have an animal to comfort them in a residence hall or an apartment that typically would not accept pets. There is some research evidence that petting dogs can decrease nervous system arousal, increase serotonin, epinephrine and oxytocin (all feel-good neurochemicals).
However, Habif Health and Wellness Center mental health professionals do not prescribe assistance animals or emotional support animals (ESAs), and we do not issue letters stating that a student needs one or would benefit from having one. We have developed this policy for the following reasons:
- While some believe a companion animal may produce more positive outcomes, little empirical evidence exists to support the conclusion that ESAs are effective in mitigating psychological disorders and related problems. It should be noted that as more research and literature is generated and with the potential for legal standards to change, this policy may be revisited in the future.
- Writing a letter means mixing clinical and forensic roles on the part of the mental health provider, which creates ethical dilemmas. These conflicting roles can negatively impact the treatment relationship.
- There are many things that may produce similar positive effects in human beings (exercise, music, meditation, etc.). We may recommend those things to you as a part of a healthy lifestyle, but we do not prescribe them.
We are available to assess and treat you using the knowledge, skills and tools we have been trained to use. We truly understand the love and connection people can have with animals, how they benefit us, and why many students desire to have an animal. However, we are not able to provide documentation to establish the need for ESAs.