Soviet policy toward political dissent is well documented. Less well known, however, is this country's strenuous efforts to prevent its citizens from relying on nonmedical means for healing.
Over recent months, a series of articles in the Soviet press has shown the government's bitter opposition to healing without reliance on medical practice or drugs.
In a recent commentary, a legal scholar stated flatly that ''anyone who heals - even with positive results - is breaking the law'' if he or she does not hold a medical diploma.
The issue touches on several official sensitivities among Soviet authorities.
One is the Russian penchant for relying on home remedies - especially herbal curatives and ''folk medicine'' - to cure all manner of ills.
Another is the Communist Party's proclivity to regulate virtually every facet of society, including the ways in which people seek cures, and the methods of their treatment.
Another is the ''collectivist'' bent of Soviet society, which frowns on individual intellectual exploration and questioning of orthodoxy.
And yet another is the Marxist-Leninist view of the ''materialist'' nature of man, a view that leaves little room for spirituality or reliance on religion for healing.
Still, the government from time to time apparently dabbles in studies of parapsychology.
Reports in the West indicate the Soviets have funded research into whether ''psychics'' could be used for military purposes (for example, to detect troop movements or determine enemy actions in advance). The Soviet Defense Ministry, however, refuses to discuss the matter.
There are unconfirmed reports that the services of a ''psychic'' were used to diagnose and treat former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev during the last years of his life.
Even if such reports are true, the government clearly does not intend to let common Soviet citizens rely on anything other than conventional medical treatment.
Accordingly, the government, in its efforts to prevent nonmedical means of healing, casts its nets wide. Some of the transgressors it scoops up would undoubtedly be considered ''charlatans'' in the West. Others simply appear to be practicing unorthodox forms of medicine, recommending special dietary regimens or dispensing curative waters.
But still others appear to be relying exclusively on spiritual means for healing, based on either philosophy or religious belief.
While most such activities might be protected in many Western countries, they are all quite clearly disallowed here. The government continues to crack down on all sorts of ''healers'' - despite accounts in the press that indicate some have been successful.
Ironically, the government-controlled press, in its zeal to ''expose'' nonmedical healing, often helps to document its extent.
At the very least, press articles suggest that many Soviet citizens, despite government disapproval, are eager to explore alternatives to medical treatment. The articles further suggest that many of these people are well-educated members of the Soviet ''intelligentsia.''
One writer in the government newspaper Izvestia indicated he had found a ''wide variety'' of people relying on nonmedical means for health and healing. Some of their gatherings, he said, drew ''up to 200 persons.''
It is difficult to come up with factual material on nonmedical healing here.
Rather than risk prosecution, many people keep their beliefs secret. And the official press routinely lumps all forms of nonmedical healing under the broad heading of the ''occult.''
Despite such broadsides, a number of people in this country apparently continue to be drawn by the promise of healing.
Valery Malushev of Leningrad was recently brought to trial for ''healing without a medical diploma,'' according to the weekly Literary Gazette (which seems to cover the subject more frequently than many other Soviet publications).
Mr. Malushev ''saved the lives of dozens or perhaps hundreds of people,'' including people with diseases diagnosed as incurable, according to the article. He was identified in the article as a ''herbal doctor,'' although no specifics of his practice were given. He apparently received a prison sentence.
A Ukrainian healer, identified as ''B. Bolotov,'' was similarly given a prison term after being tried for practicing illegal medicine, according to the newspaper Ukrainian Pravda. The article says that ''hundreds of people queued for hours'' outside his flat in Kiev, hoping to be healed.
The article described Mr. Bolotov's teachings as ''a mixture of homeopathic prescriptions and slander of the USSR.''
Still, the article says Bolotov lectured in schools and at workers' dormitories and was thus ''repeating his slander in public.''
But public discussion of nonmedical healing seems to be the exception here.
The Izvestia article said that much of the literature of nonmedical healing is ''hand-copied - or, more frequently, typewritten, xerographed, and photocopied,'' - apparently as ''samizdat'' (clandestinely published material).
Izvestia said some of these manuscripts held that ''the world around us is an illusion, while the true world is something altogether different''; and that ''our spiritual essence is an exalted, pure, and good element that unites us with the other, 'true' world.''
''One can imagine what kind of jumble forms in people's heads if they absorb truths like this day after day,'' wrote Izvestia.
However, the article concluded, ''Time will pass, and this wave, like any fad , will pass. People will figure it out.''
Still, the article expressed puzzlement that some people haven't already done so.
''Come now, what's wrong with you citizens?'' the article asked.
Another Literary Gazette article noted that ''lately there has been increased public interest in everything that is extraordinary, mysterious, or has not yet been explained, whether it be the hidden potential of the human organism, parapsychology, Tibetan medicine, or various religious beliefs and recent philosophical trends.''
And it said that such ''nonsense'' had crept into Soviet literature, with characters embarking on ''philosophical'' quests. The article made clear its disapproval of the trend.
But the Literary Gazette also published an article by a medical doctor, who conceded the possibility of ''miracles'' being performed by nonmedical means. They should be ''closely studied and not simply dismissed,'' wrote the physician , N. Troyan.
Another authority, Prof. K. Umansky, has written that orthodox medical treatment could profit from the experience of traditional folk healers, who take into account not only a patient's physical symptoms, but also his or her ''character or personality, upbringing, mind-set, and interaction with other people.''
''Doubtless the future belongs to scientific medicine,'' he wrote, ''but whatever successes medicine has, one must remember that its potential is not limitless.''