Home PageBlogJames Braid The True Father of Hypnosis

By Tom Kennedy,

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 45 seconds.

When asked about James Braid, Ernest Rossi said, “Braid is the true father of hypnosis (personal communication, Dec. 7, 2001). His work forms the basis of what I’m doing today.” This praise becomes understandable after a quick look at Braid’s contributions. He not only popularized the terms hypnosis and hypnotist; he first explained trance states as the interplay of physiology and  psychology.

Historians credit Braid (1795-1860) as both the first researcher of psychosomatic medicine and the father of modern theories of hypnotherapy.

Braid’s work marked the end of Mesmerism, which held that a hypnotist emanated magnetic fluids to invoke trance. Mesmer believed he could ‘mesmerize’ trees in order to hypnotize passersby, reasoning that the magnetic fluid would pass from the trees to the subjects.

Braid debunked Mesmer’s theory by utilizing a simple ocular fix as an induction technique. He had subjects stare at common, household objects and within minutes, they entered a trance state. His studies proved that hypnosis occurs naturalistically within the subject and wasn’t dependent on the showmanship of the hypnotist. He wrote, “The whole (of the induction) depended on the physical and psychical condition of the patient… and not at all on the volition, or passes of the operator” (Braid, as cited in Tinterow, 1970, p. 283).

Erickson often echoed this theme, “Once you really know…that you don’t do it, your subject does it, you can have unlimited confidence…that your patient is going to go into a trance” (Argast, Landis & Ruelas, 2000, p. 55).

Braid asserted that everyone can be hypnotized, assuring his contemporaries that, “success is almost certain.” (Braid, as cited in Tinterow, 1970, p. 287). Braid described trance as a “universal phenomenon” and “a law of our species” (p.288). Erickson was later to concur, stating, “As long as your subject is alive, you can expect some developed trance state” (Argast et al., 2000, p. 55).

In 1843, Braid conceptualized trance as a, “shift of the nervous system into a new condition,” (Braid, as cited in Tinterow, 1970, p. 271) marked by excitement and the mind’s fascination with a single idea. “It is this very principle, of over-exciting the attention, by keeping it riveted to one subject or idea which is not of itself of an exciting nature… and (a) general repose which excites in the brain and whole nervous system that peculiar state which I call Hypnotism” (p. 301).

Similarly, Braid characterized psychopathology as a mind fascinated with a single, negative idea.

“Abnormal phenomenon are due entirely to this influence of dominant ideas over physical action, and point to the importance of combining the study of psychology with that of physiology, and vice versa” (p. 369). He added that, “all the natural functions may be either excited or depressed… according to the dominant idea existing in the mind of man… whether that has arisen spontaneously, had been the result of previous associations, or the suggestion of others” (p. 369).

Braid regarded hypnotism as a “valuable addition to our curative means,” describing it as “a powerful and extraordinary agent in the healing art,” while cautioning that it wasn’t a “universal remedy” (p. 272). About hypnotherapy, he believed that “the imagination has never been so much under our control or capable of being made to act in the same beneficial and uniform manner by any other mode of management hitherto known” (p. 272).

Braid also detailed the first list of naturally occurring, hypnotic phenomenon: eye movements, pulse and respiratory changes, and catalepsy. He stated that, “All the (hypnotic) phenomena are consecutive” (p. 307). He reported an “extreme acuteness of hearing during the first stage of hypnotism” and advised “allow(ing) the hearing to disappear, by which time all of the other senses will have gone to rest…I allow all of the senses to become dormant and then rouse only the one I wish to exhibit in the state of exalted function, when operating carefully” (p. 312).Braid wrote poetically about how subjects find a somatic balance so they do not topple over. “They acquire (a) center of gravity, as if by instinct, in the most natural and therefore in the most graceful manner ” (p. 305). He added that because of this “faculty of retaining any position with so much ease, I have hazarded the opinion that the Greeks may have been indebted to hypnotism for the perfection of the sculpture” (p. 305)


Argast, T., Landis, R. & Ruelas, G. (2000) Now You Wanted A Trance Demonstrated Today. Laguna Nigel, CA: SCSEPH

Tinterow, Maurice M. (1970) Foundations of Hypnosis: From Mesmer to Freud. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas

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