19 Ияра 5784 г., второй день недели, гл. Бехукотай

Is A Therapist Considered A Physician According To Halacha?

On 8 Teves 5747 (1947), the Rebbe wrote this fascinating letter to a Jewish psychiatrist from Ontario, Canada.

The Letter and the Spirit, Vol 3 #254 04.05.2023 418 (0)
Is A Therapist Considered A Physician According To Halacha?
Is A Therapist Considered A Physician According To Halacha?

Greeting and Blessing:

This is in reply to your letter in which you ask several questions.

Although I do not usually pasken shaalos, which is the prerogative of Rabbonim, particularly Rabbinic organizations; however, inasmuch as the subject matter is quite simple and, especially in view of its direct relevance, I am answering your questions:

1) Does a therapist carry the status of a physician according to the Shulchan Aruch?

The answer is: Anyone who is trained (and formally attested) to bring therapeutic relief to a human being, has the status of a physician in that area of his training and expertise. Furthermore, since medical science has become so specialized, the area of therapy, and also dietetics, have in recent years been researched and systematized, etc., much in the same way as an eye doctor and an ear doctor have become specialists in their particular field. This is especially true in regard to dietetics, in view of the importance attached to diet by the Rambam (Hil. De’os) almost 800 years ago, which only recently has become increasingly recognized.

2) With regard to the problem of the complex nature of human behavior and the difficulties inherent in empirical investigation – surely, as you know, all empirical sciences, and certainly medical science, face this problem. But the Shulchan Aruch, well aware of this problem rules that one has to deal with existential reality of the available criteria as to what is medically useful and has been verified as such, etc.

3) Regarding the question of repression of anger and sadness, and the like – you surely know the approach of Chassidus, especially Chabad, and how much emphasis is placed on the tikkun hamidos (development of character, self control, etc.); also how to overcome sadness and the like.

As in many other areas, there are two aspects to consider: a) the aspect relating to physical health, and b) that relating to spiritual health.

Since both are, of course, interrelated, they can be harmonized. For example, the matter of sadness is a mental state that affects also physical well-being, and at the same time, there is the directive to “serve HaShem with joy.” The latter in itself testifies to the general ability of a human being to overcome sadness, for otherwise the Torah would not have given such a directive.

In conclusion, I would like to add the important point that precisely in our days it has become increasingly revealed and recognized in many areas of human life that the mitzvoth of the Torah that are obligatory in the everyday life in our time (as distinct from those mitzvoth that are related to the Beis Hamikdash) are of direct benefit to physical and mental health.

I trust that, in keeping with the teachings of Chanukah and the Chanukah Lights which are kindled in growing numbers and intensity from day to day, symbolizing Ner Mitzvo v’Torah Or, you are doing just that, including especially increasing from time to time your kvias-ittim in Torah in terms of both time and education.

May the light and inspiration of Chanukah illuminate and permeate all your days ahead throughout the year.

With blessing,

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