Nav: Home

Research highlights the legal issues of certifying emotional support animals

July 12, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. - A service animal can help owners with disabilities navigate daily tasks. Service animals are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as those with months or years of training that serve a specific disability-related function, such as seeing-eye dogs. However, people not necessarily exhibiting a mental or physical disability are eluding the system by asking their mental health professionals to certify "emotional support animals" (ESAs). These animals are not recognized by the ADA, have little to no specific training and often can be certified through the internet. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri are exploring the effects these requests are having on the mental health profession as well as outlining the potential legal ramifications psychologists could face by certifying ESAs. Researchers recommend that psychologists refrain from issuing certifications to avoid the ethical and legal risks associated with certifying ESAs.

"Although emotional support animals can be pets, they are not considered pets under the law," said Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology in MU College of Arts and Science. "Often, special accommodations must be afforded to individuals who need ESAs, to assist them psychologically. For example, housing that prohibits pets must allow ESAs and landlords have to waive any fees or pet deposits. Airlines are required to allow emotional support animals to accompany their handlers in the main cabin of an aircraft. As a result, it can be implied that some patients who claim they need ESAs are doing so to avoid higher rent and fees."

Boness, working with Jeffrey Younggren, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at MU, and their team reviewed several studies as well as delineated the legal differences between ESAs and service animals. They suggest that mental health professionals who certify ESAs could potentially face legal ramifications. The lack of scientific guidelines regarding ESAs would make it difficult for psychologists to defend their actions in court, Younggren said.

"The psychotherapist is stating that the person needing the emotional support animal has a disability and that the presence of the animal addresses it," Boness said. "However, if a pet owner asks a psychologist to certify a dog as an ESA allowing the pet in the owner's apartment--and then that pet bites a child--the psychologist might have to go to court to defend her decision if the landlord challenges it. Legally, they'd be implicated."

For now, Boness and Younggren recommend that therapeutic psychologists--those who treat patients--should refrain from issuing certifications to their patients for emotional support animals. Instead, they should refer those services to a forensic psychologist, who serve more of an administrative function such as being an expert witness in court.

The team now is working on their next research study that will survey mental health professionals to help guide the development of guidelines for mental health professionals who want to certify ESAs.
-end-
The study, "Examining Emotional Support Animals and Role Conflicts in Professional Psychology" recently was published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice by the American Psychological Association. Jennifer Boisvert, a private practitioner in Beverly Hills, California, contributed to the study.

Editor's Note: For more on this story, please see: https://coas.missouri.edu/news/emotional-support-animals-present-conflicts-psychologists

University of Missouri-Columbia

Related Disability Articles:

How gene mutation causes autism and intellectual disability
Scientists have discovered why a specific genetic mutation causes intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder in children.
Is disability a risk factor for miscarriage?
A new study compared the proportion of women with any cognitive, physical, or independent living disability who experienced a miscarriage during the previous 5-year period to women without disabilities.
'Climate change is a disability rights issue'
In a high-profile Letter in Science, University of Konstanz climate scientist and ecologist Dr Aleksandra Kosanic, an Associate Fellow of the University of Konstanz's Zukunftskolleg, draws attention to the fact that disabled populations have, until now, been absent from international conversations about climate change and its impact.
Predicting frailty, disability and death
In a study led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital, researchers analyzed patterns of movement among elderly study participants and found that irregular, spontaneous fluctuations could predict a person's risk of frailty, disability and death years later.
Movement patterns predict frailty and disability in the elderly
Elderly people who show more random changes in daily movement tend to be at greater risk of frailty, disability and death, according to a large study involving 1,275 individuals over the course of 13 years.
IQSEC1 gene mutations cause new intellectual disability syndrome
Researchers identify gene causing intellectual disability syndrome that is common in countries where consanguineous marriages are prevalent.
Best medications to reduce drooling for those with developmental disability
A new study has revealed the most effective medications to reduce drooling in young people with a developmental disability, which can affect their socialisation, relationships and community life.
Obesity worsens disability in multiple sclerosis
Obesity is an aggravating factor in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common form of the disease.
Musculoskeletal conditions now second global cause of years lived with disability
Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, which affect the body's joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, now rank as the second leading global cause of years lived with a disability, reveals an analysis of international data, published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
Rehabilitation psychologists: #SayTheWord disability
A group of female rehabilitation psychologists with disabilities highlight the need for clinicians, educators and disability allies to normalize the word 'disability.'
More Disability News and Disability Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.