Author Topic: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?  (Read 368 times)

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Offline snailrat

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Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« on: October 29, 2017, 09:54:31 PM »
I have schizoaffective disorder (mix of schizophrenia and bipolar) and PTSD. I already adopted a poodle mix (it's a puppy for now) to be my emotional support animal when I got to college, and my psychiatrist provided the documentation for it. But it was brought to my attention that I could also train a dog to do tasks to mitigate my symptoms.

Some of my symptoms are:
-freezing up when experiencing flashbacks
-anxiety/becoming upset when triggered
-extreme fear from paranoia
-going catatonic (I basically become paralyzed and can't move or speak)
-suicidal ideation (I have been hospitalized for this before)
etc

If I were to go down the service dog route, I would probably try to work with a professional trainer for the public access stuff and maybe some of the more difficult tasks. But I feel like some of the tasks I could train on my own.

Still, I'm unsure if I should go down the service dog route or just have this dog stay my ESA. I also read something about in home service dogs, although these things happen in public, too.

What do you guys think?

Offline Arrowcom

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2017, 12:50:35 AM »
When you mention bringing your ESA to your college, do they allow emotional service animals on the campus in classes? Typically, emotional support animals are only allowed in public housing and on airplanes, but can't come with you into public places, for example they can't come into buildings on your Campus. Of course, some campuses will allow it if you go through the DRC and ask first, and if your dog behaves well in public. But it isn't a right of the student to have the dog with them all the time. If you were just referring to having your dog with you in student housing, then that's completely different! Just wanted to make sure I wasn't getting things mixed up.

In terms of training, it really depends. Have you tried treating your symptoms with medication and therapy and other methods? Has it not worked for you? Is this something that would be considered a treatment plan? Or would it be considered coping with a debilitating disability? Typically, emotional support animals are a type of treatment plan, while service animals are a way to mitigate a disability and help you live a more normal life. If you do want a service dog, then you have the right idea of going through a trainer! However, it is a good idea to know that not many dogs have what it takes to be a service dog and will wash out early. So it is just something to keep in mind. If you really do think that a dog will benefit you and help mitigate some of your symptoms, and if you have the time patience and money to train a dog to assist you, then going the route of a service dog might be really helpful to you!
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Offline snailrat

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2017, 03:52:47 AM »
I believe ESAs are only allowed in the living areas on campus. But the school has several dogs walking through since it's an open campus in a neighborhood, so I doubt having him around campus outside would be a bother. Definitely not allowed in classes or in buildings if he's just an ESA though.

Yes, I'm in therapy and on medication for these things, but I've found that the schizophrenia part of my disorder only gets worse and worse as time goes on and requires more and more increases of medication. Lots of disorientation and delusional behavior and hallucinations that only get more severe with time even with increases in meds, which is really disheartening, but my hope is that this trend doesn't continue. I don't think any meds would help with the PTSD stuff, it's mostly shutting down due to flashbacks and triggers and slight dissociation that I have a problem with. I'm definitely working on the trauma stuff in therapy but it's a long and painful and emotionally exhausting process and as far as I know some symptoms never really go away. And while therapy is really helpful for the trauma, I've found that the psychosis is mainly just a brain thing I can't work on getting rid of through therapy.

I know in home service dogs are a thing, so it may be easier to train him to help me just at home, which would be really helpful too. I'm just worried that I'm not "disabled enough" to have a service dog, especially when it's psychiatric stuff that doesn't seem as "real," especially to a lot of people
« Last Edit: October 30, 2017, 12:41:29 PM by snailrat »

Offline Moonsong

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2017, 11:38:22 AM »
An ESA is for treatment, a service dog is when you're not expected to get better. I actually posted about this recently:

"The qualification for a psychiatric service dog and an ESA are the same. You must be disabled by a psychiatric condition and be currently in treatment (according to case law, IIRC).

The difference is that an ESA is part of a treatment plan to help you get better: they provide emotional support to help you get through the rough spots. A service dog is a tool for mitigating a disability that is not expected to get better: they perform tasks (not emotional support) that the handler cannot do for themselves."

Ask your doctor where you're at in treatment. Are you still expected to recover? Is there anything you haven't tried yet/attempts that haven't been finished? You shouldn't get a service dog unless you've gotten as far as treatment can get you first because dogs are the ultimate enablers. Depending on a service dog before you've reached as much independent functioning as possible will mean that you'll likely never recover as much as you could have if you'd waited.

Don't ask them if you should get a service dog. I personally wouldn't even bring up service dog at first. Just ask them that ^ because a lot of doctors don't really know what service dogs are or what they're for. They tend to either tell people 'no' even if in truth they could/should, or they encourage them to do it because they don't understand what it is, even if in truth the person doesn't qualify/shouldn't get a service dog at the time. So ask your doctor about where you're at in treatment and where you're expected to go, not if they think you should get a service dog.
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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2017, 11:44:30 AM »
Just for everyone else's benefit in answering this thread, schizophrenia is a life long disorder.  You don't just "get better".

Snailrat, I'm sorry you're going through what you're going through.  A professional trainer is a great thing.  Poodles tend to make great service dogs, so you've already made an awesome choice.  Whether you choose the ESA or the SD route, feel free to ask any training questions here.  People have some great ideas and some have a ton of experience.

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Offline Moonsong

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2017, 11:53:48 AM »
Just for everyone else's benefit in answering this thread, schizophrenia is a life long disorder.  You don't just "get better".

Same goes for a lot of other disorders/disabilities. In any case, though you can't just get better, with treatment it is possible to increase one's independent functioning. I have a friend with schizophrenia, and after years and years of treatment she rarely experiences related symptoms. Not saying that will be the case for everyone (obviously), but that it's possible. Even if it isn't possible for an individual to see as much improvement as my friend happened to, it is likely possible for them to function at least a little bit better than they could have without treatment.

Think of it this way: without treatment, a person (with schizophrenia for this example) might have, let's say, 20% functioning (80-100% would be non-disabled). With no treatment and a service dog, they could bump that up to maybe 40% or so. However, with treatment they might be able to reach 40% on their own and THEN with the aide of a service dog could reach 70% functioning.

Obviously those numbers were pulled out of my equus africanus asinus, but it's just an example. Treatment may not be able to cure something, but it can make life easier for the individual than it would be if they gave up too soon and got a service dog. And, they might even reach the point where they're no longer disabled and don't need the dog with treatment. But they'll never find out if they don't try.
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Offline Ariel

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2017, 12:42:54 PM »
I'm just going to go ahead and say that unlike depression and anxiety where many if not most skate through life with no treatment and are not disabled, or are not disabled with treatment, there are going to be very, very few schizophrenics that are going to be able to live a "normal" life without treatment like a lot of people with anxiety do, for example. Even with treatment (of which much of it is going to be lifelong symptom management for those who find treatment more tolerable than the symptoms themselves) most are going to have at least a clinical degree of disability.

This isn't to say anxiety or depression can't be disabling, but that there is a significant difference in the treatability, and then the severity and frequency of disability in schizophrenia or the more severe types of Bipolar comparative to anxiety or depression even with treatment. Again, this isn't to underscore the difficulties anyone here faces because the majority of us know what we are dealing with, as do our doctors so I'm not debating anyone's disability, just that they aren't really comparable in terms of talking about treatment from a numbers standpoint.
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Offline Moonsong

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2017, 01:16:17 PM »
Ariel I wasn't talking about depression or anxiety. And all I'm saying is that it's important to try to function as much as you can first without a dog, regardless of whether you can ever get 'all better' or even significantly better because the more you can do without the dog the better off you are. Then, you can use a dog (or other disability mitigation tools) to bump up your functionality even more.

I just don't think that people should be encouraged to get service dogs before they've reached their highest level of independent functioning due to the enablist nature of dogs.
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Offline snailrat

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2017, 09:26:31 PM »
Moonsong, that's a good point you bring up. I definitely could do major work on the trauma and depression stuff, so it would probably be unwise to train a dog to do anything related to that. But I've been in treatment for the schizoaffective disorder for years, and it's really at a point where this is about it. Thankfully it's more episodic, so I can have pretty symptom free periods of time, but when it hits it hits hard.....

Maybe I could just have the dog do in home tasks for me? I feel like that would be a lot more manageable. The main thing I really need is a lot of stimulus to snap out of catatonic episodes or severe psychotic episodes. I rarely leave the house without another person with me so maybe the dog wouldn't have to go in public. I don't know if a dog that does tasks just at home would still be just an ESA though

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2017, 12:49:45 AM »
A task trained dog at home is still a service dog.

I don't know that a dog can snap you out of psychosis, but they certainly can be trained to get help.  There are even devices where a dog pushes a button and it calls for help.  Hey, that could work for catatonia if you are in that state for a long time.  I don't know how long your catatonic episodes last, but having a dog able to get you help could be a really good thing.

Offline OlgatheGSD

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2017, 08:54:48 AM »
You can always overlap your tasks as well. Olga will lick my nose and mouth until I respond for a wide variety of things, such as emotional outbursts, panic attacks, post night terrors, and post ictal (seizure). The post ictal was the main reason for training that because I'm a zombie for about 15-30 minutes otherwise. With it I can snap back into the realm of the living in about 5-10. It's still a helpful task for the other things, but I don't rely on it. My point is that you can use tasks for more than one disorder so you can get creative and overlap them to condense training and make things simple.

Licking my airways is also extremely effective, because it sends signals to my brain to breathe. It's like waking someone up by dumping water on their face. I'm not being choked so there's no actual risk of suffocation but it's a good way to trick your brain into thinking you are.

And while I agree it's important to not rely on your dog, you can talk with your therapist about things that will speed along your recovery. Mine have thought licking my face was great just because it is unpleasant enough that it's a good push to want to prevent that from happening to begin with. Other aspects of my PTSD are managed through medication and continued therapy but they all thought that task was great to use.
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Offline SandyStern

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2017, 09:21:43 AM »
Snailrat, please don't sell yourself short. You are way to young to believe that you won't see improvement.  Apart from all your potential, medicine is always improving.

Comparisons between conditions of disability are not entirely useful, but I have gained about 20% more function in the past 3 years by following my care plan religiously. Meanwhile, I see my peers lose ground when they give up.

Offline snailrat

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2017, 11:30:13 AM »
I'm definitely still getting treatment through medication and therapy so I'm not giving up on that. Hopefully I'm just being pessimistic and I do see more improvement. But I think training a dog to do some in home tasks for me would be helpful.

OlgatheGSD I hope this is okay to ask, but how did you manage to train your SD to lick your face and mouth during those episodes? That might be the most helpful thing for me. I think it would also be helpful to train the dog to come to me when I'm crying but I know that's an emotional support thing rather than a service dog task.

Offline OlgatheGSD

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2017, 12:10:04 PM »
I'm a bit short on time, but I stuck bits of hotdog up my nose and mouth lol she's not a natural face licker so I had to train that. It took about 3 weeks to get the licking down on command and then I would do a hand signal at the same time, then just used the hand signal during the episode until she now does it without having to tell her to do it. The whole process took about 6 months to make it solid at home and in public.
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Offline snailrat

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Re: Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?
« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2017, 03:32:59 PM »
Thanks for the pointer! I'll definitely try to do that once he's got more things down