What is a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter?
Service dogs that help to prevent and treat mental disorders are referred to as psychiatric service dogs. Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) help people with a wide range of mental and emotional disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, extreme stress, and more.
Service or assistance animals have certain legal rights in the US. This includes access to places where pets can’t usually go, like a rental building that has a no-pet policy. However, assistance animal owners will need to obtain a certified letter before doing so.
People tend to confuse psychiatric service animals with emotional support animals (ESA). While both ESAs and PSDs help with similar types of mental and emotional disabilities, there are key differences between the two that ultimately determine the legal rights of the assistance animal.
In this article, we’ll be discussing:
- What a psychiatric service dog is
- Tasks a psychiatric service dog can perform
- Who qualifies for a psychiatric service dog
- What a psychiatric service dog letter is
- What a PSD letter contains
- The benefits of a psychiatric service animal
- The differences between an ESA and a PSD
- The legal rights of ESAs vs PSDs
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a type of service animal that assists people living with disabilities related to their mental health. This includes any mental, emotional, or learning disability. To qualify as a PSD, the dog must be trained to perform certain tasks related to the disability.
Only dogs can qualify as psychiatric service animals. There are no limitations when it comes to the breed or size of PSDs.
Tasks a PSD Can Perform
The exact tasks a PSD can perform will vary depending on the tasks they’ve been trained to do. Most PSDs are trained to perform tasks based on their owner’s disability.
Here are some of the most common tasks PSDs can perform:
- Calm you down if you are having an anxiety or panic attack. A PSD can do this by using pressure or tactile stimulation.
- Help ground and reorient you after a psychotic episode.
- Remind you to take your medication.
- Prevent you from oversleeping.
- Interrupt obsessive-compulsive or destructive behaviors.
This is just a short list of the many things a PSD can be trained to do. The PSD will be trained to behave and perform the tasks both in private and public. PSDs are not easily distracted by their surroundings. This includes food, people, other animals, or any moving objects.
They should also be able to navigate congested areas like airports, stores, and more. PSDs should be able to perform their tasks even in busy and unfamiliar environments and you should have full control of your PSD at all times.
PSDs are usually trained by a third-party professional. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require the use of a professional trainer, specific program, or school.
If you are up to it, you can train your PSD yourself. In fact, many people successfully train their PSDs without the help of third-party professionals. However, if you aren’t certain you’re capable of doing so, hire a professional trainer.
Who Qualifies for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
To qualify for a PSD, you must have a mental or emotional disability that impacts your daily life. These disabilities include but are not limited to:
- Severe depression
- Panic disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)
- Learning disabilities
A licensed healthcare professional can evaluate your mental and emotional health. They will be able to tell which condition you are suffering from and prescribe the correct course of treatment.
What Is a PSD Letter?
A PSD letter is an official document issued by a licensed healthcare professional in your state. This could be a psychologist, primary care doctor, therapist, etc. The letter states that you’ve been diagnosed with a disability and need a service dog for assistance.
A PSD letter does not certify that your dog has received the proper training. The responsibility of whether your PSD has been properly trained falls on you. You need to make sure the dog is capable of being in public and can perform tasks relating to your disability. The healthcare professional simply evaluates your mental health.
Psychiatric service dog letters are usually for people who are on their way to being PSD owners. These people may not have fully trained PSD. They simply want to know whether or not they have a qualifying condition to get a PSD.
PSD letters are also obtained by people who already are PSD owners. They may simply want documentation stating their mental or emotional disability.
What Does a PSD Letter Contain?
PSD letters each look a little different. This is because the licensed mental health professional has some leeway. Each provider will use their judgment and decide what to include in the letter.
However, you can find a list of some common elements in PSD letters. Some are required and some are based on the provider’s professional judgment. The PSD letter should always:
- Be on the licensed healthcare official letterhead
- Be dated and signed by the licensed health professional
- Include the licensed professional’s contact information
- State whether the healthcare professional believes your disability qualifies for a PSD
Some PSD letters may contain a disclaimer regarding the service dog. This is because healthcare professionals cannot say whether the dog is properly trained or not and they are not able to say if the dog is ready to be in public areas. That is the owner’s responsibility.
Benefits of a PSD letter
Your PSD letter is a legitimate document claiming that your disability is eligible for a psychiatric service dog according to a licensed mental health professional.
A PSD letter has several benefits. These include:
The ability to live anywhere
A PSD letter allows you to live with your PSD anywhere. This includes housing options where no pets are allowed or pet fees apply.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes this possible. This law applies to long-term rentals and temporary accommodations. These include AirBnbs, hotels, college dorms, and others.
The piece of legislation goes beyond having your dog live with you. It exempts you from paying any additional fees to have your dog stay in the rental. Living with your PSA is a right, not a privilege.
The right to fly with you
PSDs are allowed to stay in the cabin with you during a flight. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA) states that all commercial airlines must allow service animals on board.
Emotional support animals were once allowed to be in the cabin with their owners. However, this changed in January 2021. The US Department of Transportation now states that only psychiatric service animals can fly with their owners in the cabin.
Although not all airlines are pet-friendly, some may impose certain restrictions when you try to take your PSD on board. They may require you to submit a signed certificate beforehand. This is to make sure that the dog is well-behaved and trained.
The option to go with you everywhere
The Americans with Disabilities Act covers psychiatric service dogs. This makes them exempt from restrictions imposed on other animals and pets. This law protects you and allows you to take your PSD with you everywhere.
Legally, wherever you go, your PSD is allowed to go. This includes local and state government businesses, private businesses, and other organizations.
Main Differences Between an ESA and a PSD
The American Psychological Association identifies 5 main differences between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service dog. These are:
- Purpose – What roles and responsibilities do the animals have
- Legal protection – How the law classifies the animals. Additionally, what rights do they and their owners have
- Public access – Where they have legal access to
- Training – What type of training they must undergo
- Species – The species that can legally qualify for each category
Legal Rights of ESAs vs PSDs
ESAs and PSDs are regulated by different laws. This means they have different legal rights.
A PSD has access to public places where their owners go. This means your PSD can go with you to the store, library, or any place that prohibits dogs. On the other hand, ESAs do not have access to all of these places.
Both ESAs and PSDs have rights under the Fair Housing Act. This allows both ESAs and PSDs to live with their owners in most housing types. This includes housing options that prohibit pets.
PSDs also have rights when it comes to flying with their owners. They are allowed to be in the cabin with their owners. And owners aren’t required to pay a fee to have their PSD fly with them. The US Department of Transportation recently overhauled its rule regarding ESAs. As of January 11, 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate ESAs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service dog?
Both ESAs and PSDs help people with invisible disabilities. This includes disabilities like severe depression, anxiety, and others.
The major difference between the two is how they provide support to their owners. A PSD must be trained to perform tasks related to the disability. ESAs simply provide comfort just by their presence.
Another big difference is the type of animal. ESAs can be dogs, cats, rabbits, and others. However, only a dog that has received training can be a psychiatric service animal. A PSD must be fully trained to perform specific tasks to your disability.
How do you qualify for a psychiatric service dog letter?
PSDs are used by people suffering from psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric disabilities are mental impairments that limit major life activities. This could be an emotional or mental illness or learning disability.
You can contact a licensed health care professional for their help. They will evaluate your symptoms and decide whether an ESA or PSD is what you need. Several websites online make it easy to obtain your PSD letter.
Can an ESA become a PSD?
Yes, your ESA can become a PSD. All you have to do is train your ESA. You will need to train your ESA to perform certain tasks to help with your disability and how to behave in public.
How do I certify or register a psychiatric service dog?
There is no specific requirement to certify or register your PSD. The US Department of Justice does not recognize certain certifications or registrations as proof that a dog is a PSD.
In public spaces, staff members are only allowed to ask 2 questions:
- Is your PSD needed because of a disability?
- What task/s has your PSD been trained to perform?
Under the ADA, you are not required to disclose specific information about your disability. Moreover, no one can force you to have your PSD demonstrate its task.
You are only required to submit documentation for your PSD when flying or requesting housing. You need to submit a special service animal form. This form self-certifies your dog as a PSD.
PSD owners use ID cards, badges, vests, and tags to let the public know that their PSD isn’t a normal pet. However, these accessories do not have any legal merit. They simply let third parties know they’re dealing with a service animal.
Psychiatric service dogs perform life-saving tasks for their owners. They assist in times of crisis and emergency, while also helping you live a normal life. PSD owners enjoy several privileges under the disability law that ESA owners do not. However, these privileges come with a few responsibilities. You must ensure that your dog is fully trained to perform disability-related tasks. They should also be able to conduct themselves properly in public.
If you believe you are suffering from an invisible disability, ESA Pet can help. They will connect you to licensed and experienced mental health professionals who can determine whether you qualify for a PSD. They can also issue a PSD letter if you do qualify.