At ESAD, we’re driven by our ethics, ethos, and a desire to do “things the right way. With (as of yet unknown) upcoming changes to federal law, we’re tuning and improving our products in the expectation of meeting the new legislative requirements.
Recently, mental health experts Jeffrey N. Younggren, Cassandra L. Boness, Leisl M. Bryant, and Gerald P. Koocher published a paper entitled “Emotional Support Animal Assessments: Toward a Standard and Comprehensive Model for Mental Health Professionals.”
From that paper, “This manuscript outlines the first comprehensive model for mental health professionals making emotional support animal (ESA) assessments. Given the lack of competing models, this should be considered the current standard for making ESA assessments.”
It’s with this in mind, from which we borrowed heavily, that we’re put pen to paper for this article.
Guideline 1: The mental health professional must be able to understand, recognize, and apply the laws that regulate emotional support animals.
Only two laws directly apply to the use of ESAs in public accommodations: the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, 2003) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA, 1986).
From those laws, an individual must have a psychiatric diagnosis consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Second, the person must qualify as disabled based on the psychological condition, and the presence of the animal must ameliorate some of the symptoms of that disability.
Disability does not mean that the individual has an attachment to the ESA or the such. Instead, it means that the person requires the presence of the animal to function or remain psychologically stable.
Guideline 2: Assessment of the Client
The mental health professional should conduct a thorough assessment of the individual requesting an emotional support animal certification establishing a disability and disability-related need.
Guideline 2a: A necessary component of the comprehensive disability assessment includes an evaluation of malingering.
Very soon at ESAD, we’ll employ WHODAS 2.0 – the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0. Additionally, per the paper’s authors, an additional component of the examination includes assessing for malingering or “faking bad.”
Guideline 3: The mental health professional should consider if the animal in question is capable of performing the functions of an emotional support animal.
Living at home for an animal is usually quiet and relatively predictable — far less stress than being thrust into public (e.g., airports, flying on an airplane). An animal may be able to serve the role of ESA at home, but not on the plane.
Guideline 3a: When necessary, the mental health professional should seek collateral information regarding the capability of the the animal in question to serve as an emotional support animal.
The mental health professional should consider the animal’s temperament and obtain reliable collateral information supporting their conclusion that the animal can serve the ESA function.
One “dog” option is to obtain a “passing grade” from the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test – a primary and standard examination of temperament and decorum in public environments.
Guideline 4: The mental health professional should assess the interaction of the client with the animal to determine whether the animal’s presence has a demonstrably beneficial effect on the patient.
The ESA evaluation should include an assessment of the client–animal interaction to determine whether there is indeed a beneficial impact of the animal’s presence on the individual.
Unintended Consequences to Consider
When a mental health professional conducts a formal disability assessment, that report and associated data become a part of the individual’s medical records.