co-authors found. “The research
we did find was inconclusive,”
Also, Boness says, there are
no standards for evaluating
emotional support animals—a
problem if, say, an animal in
no-pets housing bites a child and
the case winds up in court.
More important, writing
a letter means mixing clinical and forensic roles, which is
ethically impermissible. “Those
roles are incompatible with
each other and can damage
the therapeutic relationship,”
Boness says, explaining that
both the APA Ethics Code and
the Specialty Guidelines for
Forensic Psychologists forbid therapists from providing
information about a patient’s
psychological condition to third
parties for nonclinical purposes.
If you decide a patient doesn’t
need an animal, for example,
you’ve potentially damaged
your alliance and harmed the
patient. Boness and her colleagues recommend preventing
such situations by including a
statement in informed consent
materials saying that you provide
only clinical services and will
refer patients to other providers
for forensic services.
If you’re playing that forensic
role, take the task very seriously,
says Younggren. “These letters are formal certifications of
psychological disability,” he says.
“By writing such a letter, you’re
■ Confirm that the individual
stating that the person needing
an emotional support animal
has such a disability and that the
presence of the animal addresses
The letter should contain
several elements, say animal law
expert John J. Ensminger, JD,
and New York City neuropsy-
chologist J. Lawrence Thomas,
PhD (Law and Human Behavior,
has a mental health diagnosis.
■ Explain how the animal helps
alleviate that condition.
■ Describe your observations
of how the animal and patient
interact and how long you
observed the interaction.
■ Explain the possible negative
effects of the person’s not having
the animal with him or her.
■ Mention any training the
animal has received from a
qualified trainer, if applicable.
“Ultimately, it comes down
to your opinion,” says Thomas.
“But you need to do due
Anyone can go online and have a commercial service certify a
pet as an emotional support animal,
complete with a jacket emblazoned
with “Service Animal.” But emotional support animals aren’t the
same as service animals, including
psychiatric service animals:
■ Species: Any animal can be an emo-
tional support animal. Under federal
law, only dogs and miniature horses
can be service animals.
■ Purpose: An emotional support ani-
mal assists through its presence alone.
A service animal is specially trained
to perform tasks for someone with a
■ Training: An emotional support
animal requires no training; all that’s
needed is a letter from a mental health
professional explaining its therapeutic
value. Service animals must undergo
■ Legal protections: While the
Americans with Disabilities Act protects service animals, it does not cover
emotional support animals. Emotional
support animals are covered only
under the Air Carrier Access Act and
Fair Housing Act.
■ Public access: A service animal can
go anywhere its owner goes. While
owners of emotional support animals
may get away with bringing them into
places where pets aren’t allowed, the
only places legally required to welcome
them are aircraft—where they fly for
free in the main cabin—and housing
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL VS.
PSYCHIATRIC SERVICE ANIMAL
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