Jessica G. Schairer Ph.D.

Clinical Psychology


Jessica G. Schairer, Ph.D.

American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) Newsletter, 2010 (in press)


  Thirty years ago, in October 1979, I sat expectantly in Dr. Milton Erickson’s office, a converted garage next to his home. I had traveled to Phoenix AZ from New York City with seven colleagues to spend a week studying hypnosis with Dr. Erickson. My first introduction to family therapy had been a seminar at Columbia University with Jay Haley), so I had heard many tales of Dr. Erickson’s amazing hypnotic skill. I felt very lucky to be invited to participate in this seminar.


 We arrived at noon, the appointed hour, and a few moments later, Dr. Erickson’s wife Betty wheeled him into the room, placing his wheelchair right next to my chair. He passed out index cards and asked us to write who we were and what we hoped to learn. I wrote that I was four months pregnant and I hoped to learn hypnosis for childbirth.


 Dr. Erickson glanced through the cards and asked who was pregnant. I raised my hand. He said to me: “How long have you been waiting to go into a trance?” I looked at my watch—it was now 12:20 pm. I said: “About 20 minutes.” He said: “So what are you waiting for?”


 I immediately went into a deep cataleptic trance. Talk about expectancy! Dr. Erickson started talking in his faint whispery voice, which seemed at once so vivid and so hard to hear (especially if you weren’t in a trance). “Many sperm set out for the egg—millions and millions—but only one makes it…. At every moment in life, there is an element of chance…Many children are born, but only one is yours…As the child grows, we have so little control over what happens…parents only set in motion a life that is lived its own way….”


 Deep in my trance, I felt like I was struggling under water with anxiety—“Why is telling me this? This is scary!....”


 “When you go into labor, you’ll put yourself in your doctor’s hands and you’ll be surprised at how comfortable you can feel….you’ll be thinking about what to name the baby….be prepared to be surprised…. be prepared to be pleased….by whatever happens….”


 The rest of the week was full of learning and by the end, somehow, seemingly by osmosis, I had learned how to hypnotize almost anyone, transmuting the eye roll inductions I had learned from Herbert and David Spiegel at Columbia into flowing effective interventions that I could demonstrate on the Chief of Psychiatry at North Central Bronx Hospital during Psychiatry Grand Rounds at a moment’s notice. “Prepare to be surprised… prepare to be pleased…”


 Five months later, my water broke and I went into labor at 8:30 AM. My husband was a medical student at Albert Einstein and for the first 14 hours of labor, the medical resident, a friend of my husband’s, was watching me in the hospital. At 10:30 pm on a Saturday night, my obstetrician arrived and patted me on the ankle. I immediately went into a deep cataleptic trance. I thought to myself—“I didn’t know I loved Dr, Duvivier that much!”  Four hours later, my daughter was born.


 Later that night, as I watched the full moon from the hospital window, I asked myself—Will I name her Cynthia Swift (a family name) or Cynthia Elizabeth?


 Elizabeth, I thought. And then I realized—E for Erickson! That was one of his posthypnotic suggestions—you’ll think about what you’ll name the baby.


 Then I realized-- Milton Erickson was an old-fashioned doctor. When he told me “You’ll put yourself in your doctor’s hands and feel very comfortable” it didn’t occur to him that my doctor would show up 14 hours into labor—but as soon as Dr. Duvivier touched my ankle, I fell right back into the deep trance I experienced in Dr. Erickson’s office, to the amazement of myself and everyone around me.


 While I would not say my childbirth experience was painless, I felt the hypnotic skills I had developed were very helpful, and I had a safe vaginal delivery with no anesthetics and a very healthy baby.


 A few years later, while I was pregnant with my second child, I recorded an audio program Relax for New Life: Relaxation and Visualization for Childbirth. It was based on my recollection of what Milton Erickson had said to me, plus training in progressive muscle relaxation.


 With my second and third child, and with many of my patients since, I encountered an unexpected problem with hypnosis for childbirth: when the mother is not crying out with pain, the childbirth attendants may not realize that birth is imminent. This can cause everyone to be caught by surprise when the calm and chatty mother-to-be is examined and the baby is seen to be crowning. I now routinely warn patients that they can remain aware of the process, even if they are dissociated from pain and discomfort.


 In 2009, we came full circle. Baby Cynthia Elizabeth was now all grown up and pregnant herself. I gave her a CD of my hypnosis for childbirth program based on Dr. Erickson’s work with me when I was pregnant with her. She listened to it daily throughout her pregnancy, starting in the middle of the second trimester. (She told me it was especially nice to hear her own mother’s voice.)


 When she went into labor in August, at first she wasn’t even sure it was labor.


 At 7 PM, she began to notice unusual crampy sensations. At 10 PM, she called me to say: “It just feels like strong menstrual cramps, about 10 minutes apart. The midwives told me to take a bath and get some sleep.” At 12:40 AM she felt a giant contraction, leaped out of bed and her water broke. At that point, she and her husband headed towards the hospital. Still calm and wondering what was going on, because the contractions although very close together, were not as painful as she had been told to expect, she arrived at the hospital at 1:30 AM. At that point things moved extremely quickly and very surprisingly for a first pregnancy. A healthy baby girl was born at 3:30 AM, after less than three hours of conscious labor.


 Later that morning, she said to me: “It was just like you said on the CD—“prepare to be surprised…prepare to be pleased…by whatever happens!” .



Jessica G. Schairer, PhD. (1986). Relax for New Life: Pregnancy and Childbirth Relaxation Program. Available on CD at 10921 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 504, Los Angeles, CA 90024.



Jessica G. Schairer, Ph.D. (PSY 6590) is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA, an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and an ASCH Approved Consultant in Clinical Hypnosis (C9200). She is a Past President of the Southern California Society of Clinical Hypnosis and Chair of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association’s Health Psychology Committee. Practice specialties include: infertility and childbirth, health issues such as IBS and GI disorders, auto-immune diseases, chronic pain, anxiety, phobias, and depression, and creative blocks and other career difficulties. She can be reached by email at