What's the difference between an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and a Psychiatric Service Animal (PSA)?
Which one should I choose?
Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a dog that belongs to a person who is emotionally or psychologically (psychiatrically) disabled. The person's mental health practitioner (a licensed mental health professional) has determined that the presence of the animal is necessary for the disabled person's mental health and has written a prescription stating the dog is necessary for the normal day to functioning of the disabled person. The dog needs no special training. Under current ADA and Fair Housing laws, an ESA is ONLY protected as follows:
Psychiatric Service Animal (PSA)
Psychiatric Service Dogs are regarded as service animals. They are individually trained in obedience, performing tasks, and working in distracting public environments to mitigate their partner's psychiatric disability. Their primary function is not to provide emotional support, but to perform tasks which enable their partner to function in ordinary ways a non-disabled person takes for granted. The handler of a PSA must be able to present a letter of prescription for a PSA from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional.
It is not enough to have a mental illness to qualify as a person with a disability under the ADA. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 26.2% of adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental illness in any given year, but only 6% are severely mentally ill. So more than three quarters of those with a diagnosed mental illness are not disabled by that illness to effectively qualify to use a service animal, even if they would benefit from one.
A qualified task is a trained behavior that mitigates a person's disability by doing something the partner cannot do for themselves, but must be able to do in order to live. Even if you could benefit from a trained behavior, if you could do it for yourself, then it would not qualify as a task for your specific disability. A wheelchair might be a help to a person experiencing stiffness from arthritis, but if they are capable of walking on their own, then a wheelchair isn't really needed. Similarly, a dog trained to remind a handler to take medication, though helpful, would not truly be needed if the person was able to remind themselves to take their medication in ordinary ways, such as using an alarm.