When you think of service animals, psychiatric service animals may not be the first type to come to mind. But, they can be important for people suffering from psychiatric disorders and other mental illnesses.
For those looking to start working with a psychiatric service dog, there is a process that you will have to go through to get your service animal and a lot to learn about what protections you have under the law.
What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a service animal covered by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) that trains to help people with mental health conditions like major depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There aren't a lot of studies about people who use psychiatric service dogs, but there are a few good research articles that give a breakdown of some of the stats related to owners of PSDs.
Difference Between An Emotional Support Animal And A Psychiatric Service Dog
Both an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog can alleviate the symptoms caused by a mental health condition. Still, they each serve distinct purposes and have different protections under the law.
Psychiatric service dogs support people with mental health conditions who need these trained dogs to serve a specific function in their life. PSDs working with a handler that suffers from anxiety attacks likely would be prepared to anticipate an anxiety attack, warn their handler that one is coming, and get help if something seems wrong.
ESAs would not train to handle their handler's specific condition because they mean to provide comfort for their handler. So an ESA in a similar situation would likely stay close by and be there to provide companionship.
Even though individuals with disabilities can use either ESAs or PSDs to help treat mental illnesses, they are not afforded the same protections under federal law.
The ADA defines psychiatric service dogs as "dogs that individually train to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability." Any animals outside of this definition are not considered service animals and have no federal protections under the law meaning that handlers have to defer to state and local laws for guidance on where their animals are welcome outside of their home.
Emotional support animals don't fit into the ADA's definition of a service animal since they can include different species of animals. They do not have to train to perform specific tasks related to their disability.
Process Of Getting A Psychiatric Service Dog
Now you know what a psychiatric service dog does and its role in supporting someone, but do you know how you get a psychiatric service dog? Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to get your PSD.
Decide If You Need A Psychiatric Service Dog.
If you haven't already, you need to start speaking with a licensed mental health professional about your disability. If you haven't received a diagnosis, it would be helpful for you to see someone for a diagnosis to make the process easier.
Because you can't petition for a psychiatric service dog on your own, you have to have specific recommendations from a licensed mental health professional before you can have a service animal protected by law.
Also, if you don't have access to a therapist or psychiatrist or if your therapist denies you a letter, you can get a letter of recommendation for a psychiatric service dog from other providers like a social worker or primary care physician (PCP).
Speak with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
For your service animal to be legally recognized as a psychiatric service dog, you have to have a formal letter from a mental health professional declaring that you cannot do necessary tasks in your daily life.
Having this documentation is essential to get the full benefits of having a psychiatric service dog, especially regarding housing.
This professional can be a therapist or a psychiatrist, but they have to provide you with the letter. For this letter to be deemed legitimate, it must include:
- The name of the individual who is being cared for by the professional
- A clear statement that the named individual has an emotional or psychiatric disability
- A recommendation by the health professional for the named individual to have assistance from a psychiatric service dog with the disability
The letter will not include the specific condition you are dealing with in the letter. Just make sure that enough information in the letter declares you as someone who requires an emotional support animal. This will be important if you want to apply for housing.
If you think you'll need help getting a letter, resources can help you.
Adopt and Train a Dog
Now that you have your letter, you're all set! The next thing you have to do is find your service animal. Because the ADA only allows dogs to serve as service animals, you have to adopt a dog. You should also be aware of any state or local laws that limit the breeds you can have as a service dog.
As far as training is concerned, the ADA allows handlers to train their service animals themselves, but some organizations can assist you if you need help.