Yichud in Counseling
by Rabbi Aaron Tendler
I am currently finishing my degree in a mental health field. My question to you – is it yichud for me to see a male client with the door closed? If I keep the door open I am compromising his ability to feel ‘safe’ in his surrounding and that would affect ther success of the therapy. Does it matter if the man is a Jew or a non Jew? Please advise – as this issue will be coming up often.
Pninim [name withheld]
Thank you for your question. There are many details involved in the Halachos of Yichud, so, while you are asking a very common question, the answer will vary based on any number of a set of circumstances.
I’ll start with your last question first, as it is the more simple one to answer. The Issur of Yichud applies equally to members of the opposite gender, whether they are Jewish or not.
In a situation of a healthcare professional meeting with a client or patient of the opposite gender behind closed doors, ideally the door should be left sightly ajar to prevent a problem of Yichud. If this is not feasible, it would be permissible under the following circumstances.
1. If the female (either healthcare provider or patient) is married, and her husband is in the same town as her, it is permitted for them to be secluded together. It is important to note that this is only if the female is married, the male being married would not help. This Heter works in all settings, not just a healthcare setting.
Additionally, this Heter only works if they have only a “professional relationship”. If they have a personal relationship, e.g. they are cousins, childhood friends, etc., the fact that her husband is in the city would not be a Heter.
2. If she is unmarried, there are Poskim who say that if absolutely necessary, the door may be closed if left unlocked, and there are other patients waiting in the waiting room.
3. In the above case, even if there are no other patients waiting in the waiting room, if it is usual for at least two other people in the office, such as other doctors, nurses, or secretaries, to enter the examining room unannounced, this would be permitted.
4. If none of the above Heterim work, under extenuating circumstances there are Poskim (see Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 6, Siman 40, Chapter 12:10) who will allow Yichud in some professional settings because of the professional’s concern for their reputation, which will deter any improper behavior. A competent Rav should be consulted to determine if your exact situation might qualify for this Heter.
I would like to reemphasize that there are many details that need to be taken into consideration regarding this, and every situation must be dealt with individually.
Rabbi Aaron Tendler