Dr. James Braid, surgeon and ‘father of hypnosis’, died on the 25th of March, 1860.
The story of James Braid is a mesmerising tale, involving quackery and animal magnetism, and it has a charming ending. Along the way, Dr. Braid became entranced by the performances of mesmerists or mesmerisers. Braid's spellbound interest led his coining the term 'hypnosis', but later on, after seeing the other side of the coin, he decided the phenomenon should've been called 'monoideism' (meaning ‘one idea’ or ‘one thought’ – effectively ‘a concentration of the mind’). As you've never heard of 'monoideism', you'll appreciate that by then, it was too late and James Braid's terms of ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotism’ retained the upper hand. Thankfully, you will add no doubt, because 'monoideism' is difficult to spell, difficult to read and – this is the key – difficult to pronounce, even when hypnotised. Hence, 'monoideism' never saw much of the light of day. It was a singularly daft name, anyway.
James Braid was born on his birthday in 1795, in Rylaw house, in the Kingdom of Fife. James studied in Edinburgh, where at first, he concerned himself extensively with surgery, writing on orthopaedics, the treatment of club foot, squint, and other surgical topics. Braid also published articles in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, like many of his contemporaries; such was the method of advance of medical science. After qualifying, Braid became the resident physician at the Leads-Hill mines in Lanarkshire. Later on, Braid moved to England, where he established a surgical practice of his own, in Manchester.
Braid's epiphany moment came in November, 1841, when he saw what was called a ‘conversazione’ by the Swiss chappie, M. Charles Lafontaine. Braid promptly developed a scientific interest in what Lafontaine had been practising, mesmerism or animal magnetism, as it was then called. Braid, a good solid, practical Scotsman, was sceptical at first, believing Lafontaine to have been some kind of charlatan, however, he later wrote, after observing more performances, “considered that to be a real phenomenon, and was anxious to discover the physiological cause of it.”
As a result of his professional curiosity, Braid began to experiment for himself and soon dismissed the erroneous and popular notions of the time that mesmeric trances were due to some form of magnetism. Instead, he adopted a practical and physiological view that hypnosis is a kind of sleep, induced by fatigue resulting from intense concentration. He practised on his wife and others, including friends and a servant, and he even indulged in self hypnosis.
In 1842, Braid published‘Neurypnology or The Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered In Relation With Animal Magnetism’. He first named the phenomenon after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep and master of dreams. Braid felt that the hypnotic subject was so focused on one single thought or idea, to the exclusion of all others, that a trance like condition ensued, which is, apparently, pretty much what all hypnotists believe today.
However, by 1847, Braid discovered that all the major phenomena of hypnotism such as catalepsy, anaesthesia and amnesia, could be induced without sleep. Realising his choice of hypnosis had been a mistake, he tried to rename it to the aforementioned 'monoideism'. But, as you've already read, it didn't catch on. As an alternative, the term ‘braidism’ was also coined, by one Durand de Gros, but that idea certainly never caught on either. With the introduction of his neurophysiologic theory, Braid formally consigned Franz Anton Mesmer's doctrine of animal magnetism to the dustbin of quackery and established hypnotic phenomena as something tangible and, importantly, scientific.
Subsequently, Braid detailed “a sophisticated psychophysiology, with emphasis on the psychology of suggestion and the phenomenon of double consciousness.” Working at at time that you could describe as “the eve of the anaesthetic revolution,” Dr. Braid was, not unnaturally, interested in the therapeutic possibilities of hypnosis and he explored the use of hypnotic techniques to offer his patients a degree of pain-relief during surgery. Using those methods, Braid reported successful treatment of diseased states such as paralysis, rheumatism, and aphasia. He also hoped that hypnosis could be used to cure various, seemingly incurable nervous diseases and to alleviate the pain and anxiety of patients in surgery. Braid's espousal of hypnotism as a tool of scientific investigation and his innovative use of hypnosis to cure hysterical paralysis profoundly influenced late 19th Century theories on suggestive therapeutics and the nature of hypnosis.
Braid once gave a startling, written account of self hypnosis, in which he described curing himself of the excruciating pain of severe rheumatism affecting his left side, from the neck to the chest and arm. He wrote, retrospectively, that he had been unable to either turn his head, lift his arm, or draw a breath, without suffering extreme pain and resolved to try the effects of hypnotism. He requested two friends to bring him round after he had passed sufficiently into the condition and then promptly hypnotised himself. After a period of nine minutes, his friends aroused him from his torpor, and lo and behold, Braid was able to move with perfect ease. Amazingly, at the time he wrote that account, Braid had been free from rheumatism for nearly six years. As he said, “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.”
James Braid may not be well known, but he’s a figure integral to the history of dynamic psychiatry and his writings paved the way for investigations into what was later called the unconscious mind. Dr. James Braid died suddenly of a heart attack, on the 25th of March, 1860.