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.