Regarding Those Online Prescription Letters for Emotional Support Animals

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A “hot button” topic within the service-dog community is the availability of online prescription letters for emotional-support animals. It’s important to remember that an emotional-support animal is required to mitigate a disability. The legal definition of disability is when one or more of a person’s activities of daily life is severely impacted. If you are truly experiencing the impairment of a major life function, it’s reasonable to assume that you’d be under the care of one or more medical professionals, and would not need to turn to the Internet for a letter that purportedly documents your disability.

“The idea is that the letter is supposed to be written by a treating mental health professional who is familiar with your case,” says Dailyah Rudek, executive director of The ProBoneO Program. “I don’t understand how someone can talk to you on the phone for 30 minutes, and suddenly be familiar enough with your case to do that.”

We asked a representative of the American Psychological Association for a comment. “The APA Guidelines for the practice of telepsychology encourage psychologists to meet with the consumer first before providing services online as good professional practice,” says Luana Bossolo, associate director and practice directorate, public relations.

The APA also recommends that consumers consider the following issues before purchasing any kind of “prescription letter,” assessment/testing, or other health-related service online without the benefit of meeting in person with a clinician:

Is the clinician licensed to provide the services he offers?

Is the clinician licensed where the consumer is located? Healthcare licensing boards around the country take the position that providers need to be licensed where the patient/consumer is, as well as in the state where the provider is located. Otherwise, Bossolo says, that provider could be liable for practicing in another state without a license.

Is the testing/assessment designed to be conducted online? Most psychological test instruments are designed to be conducted in person.

According to Rudek, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would ever need to legitimately rely on a paid service in order to obtain a letter for an emotional-support animal. Why? Because to legally qualify for an emotional-support animal, one must meet the legal definition of disabled, in which case the person is most likely already under the care of a medical professional who would be able to provide a letter.

If you consider paying for a “prescription letter,” you probably don’t legally qualify for one. It’s no different than parking in a handicapped spot when you don’t legally qualify for the special parking. It’s dishonest, and potentially further complicates life for those who live with various disabilities.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Unless you have Kaiser Permanente and the doctor you’re seeing isn’t allowed to write your letter no matter how disabled you are! You could be living on SSI & receiving Medicaid benefits through Kaiser and they’re not allowed to give you any letters acknowledging that you have a disability and need an emotional support animal! I haven’t worked for anyone else but I’m sure that other medical providers have the same policy. Because they don’t want to have any form of liability or even any chance of the vaguest hint of liability! It’s also a very sad fact that a great majority of people with serious mental illness are not under the care of a physician or psychiatrist. In some states that haven’t allowed them to have Medicaid they have no chance of getting the care they need but even if they happen to be lucky enough to have insurance finding a therapist that accepts Medicaid is extremely difficult! So if you’re going to be honest about the state of mental health in the USA let’s acknowledge that 100,000 people overdosed wasn’t because of the existence of pain medication it’s due to untreated mental illness! Same thing with the increased numbers of people committing suicide! So even if 5 people were to lie about having a mental health problem and get to keep their cat without giving their landlords an extra $600 a year they couldn’t afford to save the life of one depressed person who would have committed suicide otherwise then it’s worth the cost to the landlords profit margins! As a matter of fact my daughter has autism and she has been unable to find a therapist to treat her! They’re not so interested in the adult who has autism once they grow up the number of places that are available dries up. Do you think that having autism doesn’t count as a mental health problem that deserves a professional that is able to help her with her ongoing difficulties? I certainly do! She suffers from depression because of it, yet she still has as much difficulty talking about her emotions as she did as a child because it’s not like you outgrow autism! She doesn’t need a letter from anyone to keep her dog because she still lives with me but if she didn’t she might feel pressure to get a letter from a telehealth provider and she might even feel more comfortable and find a professional who was able to help her easier with telehealth because of the size of the town. It wouldn’t be the first time that we used telehealth, even as a child finding an autism specialist was difficult in the small town we lived in! Now with the pandemic it’s becoming more common place and I think that is wonderful because the USA has a serious problem with the quality and quantity of mental health providers, not to mention the stigma associated with seeking help! I’m sure you have a lot of knowledge about dogs, but in order to understand how this situation has become so commonplace it would have been much better for you to understand the lack of mental health services that people face! We have a serious problem with health care disparities in our country and mental health care is even more staggeringly discriminatory!

  2. Oh and just to give you a clear picture of the problems with your argument between 30-80% of people who have serious mental health issues are not able to get treatment! Backing up that claim is the 130 people who are committing suicide every single day in the USA but you can go right ahead and convince everyone else that those people who went on the internet and got an emotional support animal instead of killing themselves were just faking it, if that makes you feel superior because after all if these people who have committed suicide are really needing help surely they would have figured out how to find a therapist who accepted that low paying Medicaid insurance and written them a letter, despite the fact that opps they’re living in another Republican state and their government has the notion that if you provide a person with health care then they are going to take advantage of it and not want to go to work, but would be happier staying home starving with that emotional support animal! Or what the heck ever nonsense that people who have no mental health problems or financial difficulties and are white wealthy and entitled tell yourself about the suffering of the rest of the country! May I suggest until you take a walk in the shoes of one of those people who are struggling and dying from their depression and untreated mental illness that you not be so quick to judge! The way I see this situation is that there might very well be some entitled people who have no idea how narcissistic they are and feel like they’re entitled to game the system but that doesn’t mean that we need to make everyone else die because of it literally! There is a law now that no matter how poor a person’s family is they are not entitled to get help with housing when they go to college leaving many poor children unable to go to college or leaving them in extreme debt! The only reason for this was because rich people were sending their kids to college and getting free housing. Obviously that was wrong but hurting every poor person’s chances for an education or a chance to be able to get out of debt within their lifetime because of these rich people’s behaviors was worse! Let’s not kill the poor people in an effort to stop the occasional bad behavior of an entitled person!

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