Commentary: Are emotional support animals more than just pets?

If guide dogs for the visually impaired haven’t yet received mainstream acceptance, then it’s harder to envision a day where emotional support animals can too. But mental health needs are equally as important as physical health needs, so stronger regulations for emotional support animals would be a positive development.

When that day comes, these regulations need to minimise abuse, shams and other questionable practices. In most developed countries, only licensed mental health professionals are allowed to assess, evaluate and certify such needs. These professionals are also held accountable should there be any evidence of due diligence not done correctly.

This is a challenge in Singapore since mental health professionals, except psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists, are technically not regulated by governmental authorities, though organisations such as the Singapore Psychological Society and the Singapore Association for Counselling provide guidance for their conduct.

To normalise emotional support animals, formalised recognition would be needed to legitimise health needs and prevent abuses. It will also lead to greater trust among mainstream consumers as well as businesses who intend to accommodate assistance animals.

Michael Thong is a chartered registered Clinical Psychologist and counsellor with Rogerian Psychology Centre.

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