Emotional Support Animals Helping Those Suffering from Eating Disorders

Emotional Support Animals and eating disorder recovery

In order to successfully treat eating disorders, most mental health professionals agree that a multi-modal approach is best. Long gone are the days where a “one size fits all” approach is used for the patient.

Practitioners have realized that each person living with an eating disorder will need a treatment plan that is catered to their unique needs. In most cases, their plan will have several methods to help treat and support the individual as effectively as possible.

One method that is achieving wonderful results is the use of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) to provide encouragement for people overcoming an eating disorder.

The Purpose of Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals are different than a traditional pet. While many people report a strong emotional bond with their pet, ESAs serve a more specific purpose than unconditional love.

The use of animal therapy is a central part of many treatment plans and a recognized type of mental health treatment.

How Emotional Support Animals Became A Regular Treatment Modality

Emotional Support Animals in eating disorder recoveryWhen ESAs were initially introduced as a part of mental health treatment protocols, the regulations and rules were very unstructured. In those early years, it seemed that just about anyone could get a therapy animal and the system became widely abused.

ESAs numbers rose dramatically, and places like airports, college campuses, and many rental properties cracked down on the abuse. In the wake of this problem, rules and systems were put in place to make sure that people who genuinely need the support of an emotional support animal can get it.

In today’s day and age, if your mental health professional feels that an ESA could benefit you, they can write a specific letter backing your need to an ESA and how the animal is a part of your regular treatment plan.

How Can An Emotional Support Animal Help Someone Suffering from an Eating Disorder?

The question arises, how can an emotional support animal help me with my eating disorder treatment?

ESAs are proving to be an incredibly important part of many treatment plans for eating disorders. While these animals do not receive any specific training to help their owner, the connection with their person is what makes them so helpful.

Research has found that spending time with animals has a positive impact on most people both physically and emotionally. The time with an animal does everything from lowering blood pressure to helping your body release hormones that make you feel a sense of contentment.

According to a 2018 report that investigated several previously conducted studies on the relationship between ESAs, science is standing behind the fact that owning an animal can be a big treatment boost.

Anyone recovering from an eating disorder knows that it is an ongoing battle. Some days feel hugely successful, while others feel like a constant fight.

Studies have shown that in those moments of struggle, emotional support animals can provide the immediate support and stress relief that can help sidestep relapse.

The Steps to Getting an Emotional Support Animal

A quick online search for emotional support animals yields a plethora of information both factual and fictional. ESAs often get confused with service animals, and it’s important to know the differences between the two.

Animal eating disorder therapyService Animals are trained to help their owner with specific tasks whereas emotional support animals do not have to go through the type of highly specialized training that a Service Animal does.

In order for your pet to become a legitimate and legal emotional support animal, you must have a letter written by a licensed mental health professional outlining that your ESA is part of your eating disorder treatment plan.

It is helpful to connect with a therapist who is familiar with how an emotional support animal can specifically benefit you as an individual who is struggling with this type of mental health issue.

Emotional support animals are a relatively new concept in the greater picture of treating eating disorders. Recent research has shown that the non-judgmental, unconditional love and support of an ESA can help people get through both the good and bad days.

The best way to figure out if a therapy animal could help you continue your progress is to talk to your mental health professional. It’s possible an ESA might be the missing piece for your successful path to recovery.

TherapyPet.org is a company that helps those in need connect with a licensed therapist in order to get the proper documentation to make their pet an official emotional support animal. TherapyPet.org has helped thousands of customers across the United States get in contact with licensed therapists that provide quick and confidential assessments, allowing them to travel and live with their pets without having to face any discrimination. The process is made simple, quick, and convenient for those who qualify to live a more comfortable life.

About The Author:

Kristin Fosco, M.S. is a Physiologist from eastern Pennsylvania who has partnered with TherapyPet.org to create this article.


Brooks, H. L., Rushton, K., Walker, L., Grant, L., Rogers, A., & Penny Bee. (2018, February 05). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: A systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. Retrieved from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2

Wisch, R. F. (2015, January 01). Michigan State University: FAQs on Emotional Support Animals. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.animallaw.info/article/faqs-emotional-support-animals
*Michigan State University College of Law

Yamamoto, M., Lopez, M. T., & Hart, L. A. (2015, August 19). Registrations of Assistance Dogs in California for Identification Tags: 1999–2012. Retrieved June 26, 2018, from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0132820
Brief Description

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 9, 2018.
Reviewed on July 15, 2018 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.