Emotional Support Puppies, Peacocks, and Tarantulas: Oh, My! A Counselor's Clinical, Ethical, and Legal Guide to Addressing Emotional Support Animal Letter Requests
presented by Aaron Norton, LMHC
3.0 CEUs in Professional Ethics and Boundary Issues
If you think you are seeing an increasing number of animals sporting “service dog,” “therapy dog,” or “emotional support animal” vests you are right. Researchers from the University of California at Davis recently examined changes in the types of assistance dogs registered by animal control facilities in California between 2000 and 2002 and a decade later, from 2010 to 2012. They found that the number of animals used for psychiatric services and emotional support had increased ten-fold, much faster than medical or mobility-trained assistance dogs (here).
Federal regulations governing the legal status of “emotional support animals” are particularly loose. Unlike a “service dog,” an emotional support animal can be a member of any species, does not have to be trained to do anything, and can be your personal pet. But if you want your peacock or poodle officially recognized as an emotional support animal you have to be under treatment for a mental disorder. And you must obtain a letter from a physician or licensed mental health professional certifying the animal is necessary for your mental health or treatment for your psychiatric condition
Psychotherapists are increasingly being asked by their clients for letters that will allow their pets access to air travel and no-pets housing. Many say these requests pose ethical issues for mental health professionals. Emotional support animals are supposed to be part of a treatment program and sometimes requests for emotional support animal letters poses a conflict of interest between therapist and patient.
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