Monday, September 7, 2009
In People Farm, Steve Susoyev writes the story of a charismatic but disturbing psychologist's wilderness therapy 'ranch' in the Canyonlands
I heard about Steve Suseyov's brilliance from my sister Ann, his English teacher, and when she heard he had sought refuge and therapy at an older age with Dr. Standhal who had set up his healing ranch in our hometown, she was alarmed. We had already decided that the psychologist, already established there, seemed brilliant but far too bold and sexual for our tastes. What would happen to Steve who had written a paper about his homosexuality for her class when he was 13, along with enough problems to alarm the school and cause her to get into trouble for accepting his far too honest papers.
Well, a lot happened in that 'healing place', but before Dr. Standhal suddenly moved them to Los Angeles, quite a number of us trekked down to the 'ranch' at their leader's invitation. I held out the longest with my profound distrust of psychiatrists and psychologists in general due to incarceration, but when I did go I was quite entranced with a Navaho style hogan they had built and decorated with shiny colored rocks in a striking design. Steve explains in his book that they had found the Indian style Tipis too hard to keep warm in the winter and were seeking more solid designs to fit the climate.
I can always be beguiled by people who rough it in that country. One of the most entrancing parts of Steve's book for me was when he was ordered to go on a ten day trek into the canyon country during which they had to rappel down over a cliff to a canyon floor. He got stung by a scorpion, and a flood hit. They were on higher ground but their guide tried to beat the flood down the canyon and to their horror his body came floating by. They leaped to the rescue and Steve and another hiker managed to bring him back to life with CPR.
Steve had hitchhiked to the ranch in lieu of committing suicide. He had met up with their leader in connection to his job in a psych ward called Los Perdidoes in Los Angeles. There he did such duties as help give electric shock. He had been extremely traumatized by a doctor who gave a favorite patient of his 15 times the normal dose of electric shock, tantamount to killing him! He had tried to get this patient transferred to the ranch in Utah figuring nothing could be as bad as the treatment he was receiving. The patient went awol before his grandmother could transfer him, so Steve decided to go instead of committing suicide.
Very soon his intelligence and writing skills caused him to become the doctor's right hand man, but that placed him in a position to see and experience every disturbing thing this man was capable of coming up with, which included sexual satisfaction from his assistants and patients. Dr. "Cy" explained quite casually that he had been sold to a wealthy man by his grandmother when he was five years old. His mother had been killed by a drunk driver and his father had disappeared. He protested that he was very happy to be sold as this man was very good to him, gave him many great books to read, educated him at the best of colleges and only required that he service him sexually every night before he went to sleep! Steve had to absorb such shocking information plus accept what it had done to the leader and helped cause him to do! He just had no sense of ordinary boundries, which was one reason he had set up his therapy ranch in such a remote place as our hometown.
The locals, however, with binoculars and such had already sighted naked revelers on the ranch and knew that a great deal was going on there that could not be accepted even by the most open minds. The Doctor just went too far for almost everybody.
We did not see, though, how he could ever be stopped. Anymore than Utah had been able to stop the polygamist communities from flourishing in southern Utah and such.
But it seems that an outraged mother who found out he had deflowered her 13 year old daughter had the power to send him and his new wife fleeing with a purse full of thousand dollar bills. Dr. Cy eventually served a prison term and never returned to his former glory as the darling of the therapists who he provided with sexual therapy in his remote canyonlands 'healing' center. In the book Steve says he greeted a Nobel prize winner to the ranch as the young assistant to the master.
The therapy ranch experiment came to a halt. Steve says that he spent 10 years trying to process and write about the experiences with Dr. Cy. "People Farm" is the result which can be obtained at peoplefarm.com or through Amazon.
I find Steve's knowledge of the language of the therapists compelling. Oh yes, the patient who had endured the high voltage electric shock treatment turned up to the ranch. He became violent over something after living there quite a while and was taken into custody where it was found he had gone awol from Los Perdidoes. So nothing but do, authorities said they must return him to what Steve regarded as a hell hole, and the patient with his electric shock scars still not healed, committed suicide!
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