James Braid

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James Braid regarded by many as the first genuine "hypnotherapist" and the "Father of Modern Hypnotism.

James Braid (surgeon) (June 19, 1795 – March 25, 1860) was a Scottish surgeon and "gentleman scientist". He was a significant innovator in the treatment of club-foot and an important and influential pioneer of hypnotism and hypnotherapy.


  • ...by the term Hypnotism, or Nervous Sleep, I mean a peculiar condition of the nervous system, into which it may be thrown by artificial contrivance, and which differs, in several respects, from common sleep or the waking condition. I do not allege that this condition is induced through the transmission of a magnetic or occult influence from my body into that of my patients; nor do I profess, by my processes, to produce the higher [i.e., supernatural] phenomena of the Mesmerists. My pretensions are of a much more humble character, and are all consistent with generally admitted principles in physiological and psychological science. Hypnotism might therefore not inaptly be designated, Rational Mesmerism, in contra-distinction to the Transcendental Mesmerism of the Mesmerists.[ Braid, Observations on Trance or Human Hibernation, 1850, 'Preface.
  • ...during a period in history psychology was still a branch of academic philosophy. The psychological concepts developed by philosophers of mind, such as “dominant ideas” (akin to the automatic thoughts of Beck’s cognitive therapy) “habit and association” (a subjective precursor of Pavlovian conditioning), and “imitation and sympathy” (which we now call “role-modelling” and “empathy”), are repeatedly mentioned by Braid as the theoretical framework upon which his science of hypnotism, “neuro-hypnology”, was built. Braid’s friend and collaborator, Prof. William B. Carpenter, discusses the theoretical principles of this in his Principles of Mental Physiology (1889), especially in the chapter ‘Of Common Sense’ which concludes by quoting an approving letter from the philosopher John Stuart Mill sent to Carpenter in 1872. Mill agrees with Carpenter’s contention that “common sense”, by which he means a kind of intellectual intuition analogous to the ancient Greek concept of nous, is a combination of innate and acquired judgements, which have a “reflexive” or “automatic” quality and appear to consciousness as “self-evident” truths.
  • It is commonly said that seeing is believing, but feeling is the very truth. I shall, therefore, give the result of my experience of hypnotism in my own person. In the middle of September, 1844, I suffered from a most severe attack of rheumatism, implicating the left side of the neck and chest, and the left arm. At first the pain was moderately severe, and I took some medicine to remove it; but, instead of this, it became more and more violent, and had tormented me for three days, and was so excruciating, that it entirely deprived me of sleep for three nights successively, and on the last of the three nights I could not remain in any one posture for five minutes, from the severity of the pain. On the forenoon of the next day, whilst visiting my patients, every jolt of the carriage I could only compare to several sharp instruments being thrust through my shoulder, neck, and chest. A full inspiration was attended with stabbing pain, such as is experienced in pleurisy. When I returned home for dinner I could neither turn my head, lift my arm, nor draw a breath, without suffering extreme pain. In this condition I resolved to try the effects of hypnotism. I requested two friends, who were present, and who both understood the system, to watch the effects, and arouse me when I had passed sufficiently into the condition; and, with their assurance that they would give strict attention to their charge, I sat down and hypnotised myself, extending the extremities. At the expiration of nine minutes they aroused me, and, to my agreeable surprise, I was quite free from pain, being able to move in any way with perfect ease. I say agreeably surprised, on this account; I had seen like results with many patients; but it is one thing to hear of pain, and another to feel it. My suffering was so exquisite that I could not imagine anyone else ever suffered so intensely as myself on that occasion; and, therefore, I merely expected a mitigation, so that I was truly agreeably surprised to find myself quite free from pain. I continued quite easy all the afternoon, slept comfortably all night, and the following morning felt a little stiffness, but no pain. A week thereafter I had a slight return, which I removed by hypnotising myself once more; and I have remained quite free from rheumatism ever since, now nearly six years.
    • In “The First Account of Self-Hypnosis Quoted in “The Original Philosophy of Hypnotherapy (from The Discovery of Hypnosis)”.
  • ..before being hypnotized, she could not distinguish the capitals in the advertising columns of a newspaper. After being hypnotized, however, she could, in a few minutes, see to read the large and second heading of the newspaper, and next day, to make herself a blond cap, threading her needle WITHOUT the aid of glasses.
    • Hypnotising for improvement of eyesight, in “Neurypnology; or, The rationale of nervous sleep, considered in relation ...”, p. 68.
  • I consequently tried it in such cases, and where there has not been destruction, or irreparable organic injury to the auditory apparatus, I can confidently say, I know of no means equal to hypnotism, for benefiting such cases. Of course, it cannot suit all cases, but I am satisfied it will succeed in a numerous class of cases, and in some which bid defiance to all other known modes of treatment.
    • The case of treating deafness by hypnotizing, in in “Neurypnology; or, The rationale of nervous sleep, considered in relation ...”, p. 223.

Original Philosophy of Hypnotism The International College of Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy[edit]

The Original Philosophy of Hypnotism The International College of Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy

  • There is, therefore, both positive and negative proof in favour of my mental and suggestive theory, and in opposition to the magnetic, occult, or electric theories of the Mesmerists and electro-biologists. My theory, moreover, has this additional recommendation, that it is level to our comprehension, and adequate to account for all which is demonstrably true, without offering any violence to reason and common sense, or being at variance with generally admitted physiological and psychological principles.
  • We must remember, during a period in history when psychology was still a branch of academic philosophy. The psychological concepts developed by philosophers of mind, such as “dominant ideas” (akin to the automatic thoughts of Beck’s cognitive therapy) “habit and association” (a subjective precursor of Pavlovian conditioning), and “imitation and sympathy” (which we now call “role-modelling” and “empathy”), are as the theoretical framework upon which science of hypnotism, “neuro-hypnology”, was built.
  • Some individuals may themselves be deceived by the compelling words of other individuals, but a much more significant number fall into the same state after being hypnotised by continuous eye-fixation upon an object and concentration of mind. This state can even be established before the eyelids are closed or a pronounced tendency to sleep has been felt. Suggestibility can also be increased by the sight of other patients in the experiment, and that by virtue of the laws of sympathy and imitation.
  • Strictly speaking, the word hypnotism should be reserved only for those patients who actually fall into a state of sleep, and who forget upon awakening all that occurred during this state. When this is lacking, it is a question merely of reverie or dreaming. It would therefore be apposite to establish a terminology, characterising these modifications which result from the hypnotic process; indeed, with regard to those conditions resistant to ordinary medication and suitable for cure by hypnotism, hardly one patient in ten arrives at the unconscious stage of sleep (at least for the whole duration of the process). The word “hypnotism” can then lead them into error and make them believe that they do not benefit in any way from a process of which the characteristic and obvious effects do not appear to be those that the name [i.e., "hypnotic sleep"] indicates.
  • ...the position of the body significantly influences the emotions and sensations during the desired stage of hypnotism; also, whatever the passion which one wants to express by the attitude of the patient, when the muscles necessary to this expression are brought into play, the passion itself bursts forth suddenly and the whole organism responds accordingly. The upright body, the expanded chest, the contracted extensors, all that suggests the feeling of self-esteem, self-determination, resolve and unconquerable pride. As soon as one decreases the contraction of these muscles, that gives to the patient a depressed attitude, with a sunken chest, the expression of the features changes in a very manifest way, the voice and the whole manner of being of the individual now express humility, abasement and pity.
  • In this way, we influence the muscles of physiognomy [facial expression] and it is possible for us to arouse any passion or sentiment whatsoever; the contraction of the interconnected muscles, constituting “the anatomy of expression”, evokes in the brain of the hypnotised person certain impressions just as these, in the waking state, determine the whole facial expression. It is thus merely a reversal of the usual order [of causation] between the emotions and their physical expressions.
  • It is however possible, by education, to entirely invert the order of these natural phenomena: suppose that the operator [hypnotist] speaks, with each pass or with each movement that he executes, and that he says in advance what will happen, then what he said in advance can take place instead of what would have occurred naturally.
  • All that produces a strong excitation, all that modifies the preliminary state of the thoughts and the feelings, surely also modifies the mental and physical state of the individual, especially if it occurs with confidence, expectation, and concentration of mind. All these phenomena, however extraordinary they are, are only the result of a heightening of the intellectual functions or power, which we all have to an average degree in the ordinary or waking state.

About James Braid[edit]

  • James Braid credited with the title the “Father of Modern Hypnotism” is a major figure in the history of hypnotism. Hypnosis was not known as it is now before Braid. He freed hypnotism from the occult shadows of mesmerism through his insights into the nature of trance. Braid was born in Kinross, Scotland, and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
    • D. John Antony, in "Hypnotic Counselling (Appealing TO The Unconscious)".
  • When James Braid introduced the concept of hypnotism, he was not consistent with his proposal. At one time he spoke of hypnotism as a specific sleep-like neurological state comparable to animal hibernation or yogic meditation and at other times he spoke of it as encompassing a number of different stages or states that are an extension of ordinary psychological and physiological process. Braid seems to have moved from a more “specific state” understanding to a more complex “non-state” orientation.
  • Modern Hypnotism owes it name and its appearance in the realm of science to the investigations made by Braid…He is its true creator; he made it what it is; and above all, he gave emphasis to the experimental truth by means of which he proved that, when hypnotic phenomena are called into play, they are wholly independent of any supposed influence of the hypnotist upon the hypnotised, and that the hypnotised person simply reacts upon himself by reason of latent capacities in him which are artificially developed…Braid demonstrated that … hypnotism, acting upon a human subject as upon a fallow field, merely set in motion a string of silent faculties which only needed its assistance to reach their development.
  • James Braid made a rough distinction between different stages of hypnosis. He first termed them as the first and the second conscious stage of hypnosis. Later he replaced these with a distinction between “sub-hypnotic,” “full-hypnotic,” and “hypnotic coma” stages.
    • D. John Antony, in "Hypnotic Counselling (Appealing TO The Unconscious)".
  • Around 1840, a patient in the office of James Braid accidentally entered a state of trance while waiting for an eye examination. Braid, as he was aware of the disfavour of mesmerism and animal magnetism coined the terms “hypnotism” and “hypnosis” in 1843. And thus began the serious study of this altered state of awareness.
    • D. John Antony, in "Hypnotic Counselling (Appealing TO The Unconscious)".
  • I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred an fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
    • Aldous Huxley letter to Orwell (October 1949) anthologized in More Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience edited by Shaun Usher (2015)
  • Although Braid believed that hypnotic suggestion was a valuable remedy in functional nervous disorders, he did not regard it as a rival to other forms of treatment, nor wish in any way to separate its practice from that of medicine in general. He held that whoever talked of a "universal remedy" was either a fool or a knave: similar diseases often arose from opposite pathological conditions, and the treatment ought to be varied accordingly. He objected being called a hypnotist; he was, he said, no more a "hypnotic" than a "castor-oil" doctor.
  • Many people still believe that hypnotism originated in the work of Franz Anton Mesmer. However, Mesmer never actually hypnotised anyone. His many followers emphasised the notion of “animal magnetism”, a supernatural force emanating from the body of the mesmerist. However, their claims were widely rejected and repeatedly debunked. James Braid introduced the term “hypnotism” in contrast to “mesmerism” to describe the opposing view: that the effects upon their patients were due to ordinary psychological and physiological factors such as relaxation, focused attention, and suggestion, etc. From the 1840s onwards, Braid’s hypnotism gradually eclipsed mesmerism in popularity and became the basis of modern hypnotherapy.
    • Donald Robertson, in The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Collected Writings of James Braid quoted in “The Original Philosophy of Hypnotism” , in "The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Collected Writings of James Braid" quoted in “The Original Philosophy of Hypnotism”.
  • Throughout the twentieth century, hypnotism became confused in the public imagination with notions derived from mesmerism. The most common fallacies about hypnosis are that it is a state of unconsciousness and that the subject is completely under the control of the hypnotist, who can make him do what he wishes. Research has shown that holding these misconceptions actually makes people less likely to benefit from hypnosis. However, these are both notions derived from mesmerism. Braid tried to refute from them by emphasising that in his “hypnotism” subjects remained conscious nine times out of ten, and that their consent and collaboration was required. Indeed, Braid soon concluded that his method of hypnotism bore considerably more resemblance to meditation than to mesmerism, and that it was largely self-induced by the subject focusing their attention upon a single dominant train of thought, and doing so with the expectation of producing certain responses.
    • Donald Robertson, in "The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Collected Writings of James Braid}, quoted in “The Original Philosophy of Hypnotism”.
  • Braid passionately emphasised the scientific approach to hypnotherapy. He based his own method upon well-established or common sense principles such as the effect of expectation and vivid imagination, the role of social imitation, and the power of focused attention to increase the effect of certain dominant ideas. These are also emphasised in the modern cognitive-behavioural theory of hypnosis. Braid’s down-to-earth approach therefore provides an ideal foundation for modern scientific study of hypnosis and practical hypnotherapy.
    • Donald Robertson, in "The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Collected Writings of James Braid" quoted in “The Original Philosophy of Hypnotism”.
  • A hypnotist who has never read James Braid is a bit like a psychoanalyst who’s never read anything by Sigmund Freud. Anyone with an interest in modern cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy, such as our own Hypno-CBT approach, should start by reading about the “common sense” origins of hypnotism. It’s remarkable that most of Braid’s writings have been out of print since his death, especially his more mature writings which are most relevant today.
    • Donald Robertson, in The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Collected Writings of James Braid quoted in “The Original Philosophy of Hypnotism”.

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