James Braid (1795 – 1860) was Scottish surgeon, specializing in eye and muscular conditions. He is an important and influential pioneer in hypnotism and hypnotherapy.
Braid adopted the term “hypnotism” as an abbreviation for “neuro-hypnotism” or nervous sleep. He is regarded as the first genuine hypnotherapist and the Father of Modern Hypnotism.
Braid became interested in the phenomenon known as mesmerism in November 1841, when he personally observed a demonstration given by the traveling Swiss mesmerist Charles Lafontaine. When he examined the physical condition of Lafontaine’s mesmerized subjects, Braid concluded that they were in fact, in a different physical state.
Within a few days following his observation of Lafontaine, Braid began experimenting with his own methods. Soon after, he became convinced that he had discovered the psycho-physiological mechanism underlying the phenomena and immediately delivered a series of five public lectures in Manchester.
The following year, he wrote a report entitled Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism. It was initially accepted for presentation before the British Association in June 1842, but was rejected at the last moment. Braid eventually made arrangements for a series of lectures where he was able to present the report’s contents.
Braid changed his sleep-based physiological theory to a psychological one which emphasized mental concentration on a single idea. Braid summarized and contrasted his own view with the other views prevailing at that time.
“The various theories regarding the phenomena of mesmerism can be arranged thus:
- Those who believe they are caused entirely by a system of collusion and delusion. A great majority of society may be ranked under this head.
- Those who believe they are a real phenomena, but are produced solely by imagination, sympathy, and imitation.
- The animal magnetists, or those who believe that some magnetic medium is the cause of the mesmeric phenomena.
- Those who have adopted my views, that the phenomena is solely attributable to a peculiar physiological state of the brain and the spinal cord.”
Braid also stressed the importance of the subject concentrating both vision and thought, referring to it as “the continued fixation of the mental and visual eye” as a means of engaging a natural physiological mechanism that was already hard-wired into each human being.
In 1843, he published Neurypnology; or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism, his first and only book-length exposition of his views. The work was popular from the outset, selling 800 copies within a few months of its publication.
Braid thought of hypnotism as producing a “nervous sleep” which differed from ordinary sleep. The most efficient way to produce it was through visual fixation on a small bright object held eighteen inches above and in front of the eyes. The physiological condition underlying hypnotism was caused by the over-exercising of the eye muscles through the straining of attention.
He completely rejected Franz Mesmer’s idea that a magnetic fluid caused hypnotic phenomena. Braidism is a synonymous with hypnotism, though it is used infrequently.