James Braid: Father of Modern Hypnotism by Stephen McMurray

The word ‘hypnosis’ comes from the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos. Hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation, increased suggestibility and narrowed focus. Hypnotherapy is when hypnosis is used for therapeutic purposes. The hypnotherapist helps the client in entering a state of hypnosis and then makes suggestions that help the subconscious mind achieve the desired therapeutic goals.

James Braid


Hypnosis has its origins in the late eighteenth century with the ideas of the Austrian physician Franz Mesmer. Mesmer believed that the inducement of a sleep-like state would assist people in healing their ailments. The Scottish physician James Braid further developed the medical applications and scientific understanding of these theories in the middle of the nineteenth century and is generally recognised as the father of modern hypnosis.


James Braid was born in 1795 in Kinross-shire, Scotland. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Braid was a highly regarded surgeon, particularly in the treatment of club foot. However, it is work in hypnosis that James Braid is best known.


Braid moved his surgery practice to Manchester in the 1820s. His interest in hypnosis started in 1841 after attending a performance in Manchester by the Swiss magnetic demonstrator Charles Lafontaine. Braid was convinced that the participants had indeed entered a different ‘state’, though he dismissed the claims it was caused by magnetism and sought a scientific explanation for the trance state he had witnessed,


Braid conducted a number of experiments both on himself and others. He found he could induce trance states with holding an object in front of subjects’ eyes and also through trance. Braid published “Neurypnology or The Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism”. Braid was convinced that the trance state he had witnessed and experienced was a type of sleep and therefore named it after the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos.


However, later in the 1840s, Braid realised that many of the features of hypnotism, such as amnesia and anaesthesia could in fact be induced without sleep. Thus, he realised naming the phenomenon after Hypnos was a mistake, though by that point the term hypnosis was widely used to describe the trance state and it was too late to be changed. Braid maintained an active interest in hypnotism until his death in Manchester in 1860.


Hypnotherapy developed into the 20th century with the work of Milton Erickson. Erickson held senior psychiatric posts in hospitals in the USA and was extremely flexible with the use of hypnotherapy with his clients, sometimes direct in the use of suggestions, sometimes indirect. Erickson also used a wide range of jokes, stories and metaphors to communicate with the subconscious mind to tackle problems, which Erickson viewed as a process in which symptoms were a part of. By tackling symptoms, Erickson believed it was possible to change the entire pattern of problems and making them easier to deal with.


Stephen McMurray is a Hypnotherapist in Edinburgh.




Here you can read a copy of James Braid’s book Neurpnology:

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