James Braid, the Founder of Hypnotherapy

James Braid (1795-1860) was the founder of hypnotherapy. It was Braid who coined the English term “hypnotism”, and subsequently “self-hypnotism” and “hypnotic therapy”. You can find a basic introduction to James Braid’s life and work on Wikipedia.  The portrait of James Braid on this page is reproduced by kind permission of Manchester Archives & Local Studies.

I am the editor of the book The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Complete Writings of James Braid, published by the National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH). You can order the book from NCH directly, or from Amazon UK or Amazon US. You can also browse a limited preview online with Google Books.

You can read my blog articles about James Braid here. Braid’s final, previously unpublished in English, manuscript ‘On Hypnotism‘ was written in 1860; I published a backward translation from French in the International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis with a brief communication and preface. The lost manuscript ‘On Hypnotism’ is an excerpt from the book The Discovery of Hypnosis.

The Discovery of Hypnosis:
The Complete Writings of James Braid, the Father of Hypnotherapy


Edited by Donald Robertson

Large Paperback: 395 pages
Publisher: National Council for Hypnotherapy Ltd (23 Feb 2009)
ISBN-10: 0956057004
ISBN-13: 978-0956057006

From the Foreword by Dr. Michael Heap

“It gives me great pleasure to contribute this Foreword to The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Complete Writings of James Braid, the Father of Hypnotherapy. My first task is to congratulate its editor, Donald Robertson, on the quality of his work and in particular the fine scholarship displayed in his introductory chapters, of which I am sure all readers will be much appreciative.

When I was first asked to make this contribution I was immediately conscious of how much I have neglected, in my own reading, the original works of key historical figures in the field of hypnosis. I suspect that many of my colleagues would confess likewise. But why should one spend one’s time studying such works when (a) their main conclusions have been summarised in up-to-date texts by well-respected authorities and (b) many of the claims and ideas espoused have been contradicted or superseded by advances in research, theory and practice?

As in many other fields of enquiry, the rewards for the time and effort expended in the detailed study of early texts can prove disproportionately small and little more than those gained from reading competent summaries by modern writers. But there are works that stand out and have a timeless quality. They do not merely tell us about the passing fads and fashions of the period in which they were written; they inform us about issues and concerns that we continue to struggle with and about ways that we might resolve them. The report of the Franklin Commission on animal magnetism is a case in point. I am certain that the work of James Braid is another.

Moreover, there are certain periods in the progress of any field of human enquiry when it becomes particularly apposite and instructive to revisit the works of one of the early key figures. For the serious student of hypnosis, now is the time to pay or repay a visit to the writings of James Braid.”

Fiona Biddle, Commissioning Chair, National Council for Hypnotherapy

“The NCH is delighted to publish this excellent work. Our aim is always the furtherance of the profession through high standards of knowledge and practice, and this book adds considerably to this aim.

Our history is what defines us, and so it behoves all hypnotherapists to understand our beginnings!”

Tom Butler-Bowdon, Author of 50 Psychology Classics

“Braid was the first to put hypnotherapy on a scientific, rational footing, so today’s hypnotherapists have a lot to thank him for.

A Manchester surgeon, Braid discovered hypnotism reasonably late and like most doctors of his time considered stage hypnotists charlatans. It was only his physical examination of a hypnotised subject that convinced him an actual bodily change had taken place with non-mystical causes.

The Discovery of Hypnosis puts together Braid’s key writings and provides succinct commentary and historical context. This is an exhaustive survey and the editor has obviously mastered the material, revealing an underrated figure in the history of psychology and psychotherapy.

One of Robertson’s fascinating ideas is that Braid should not be considered simply the father of hypnotherapy, but the father of psychotherapy, given his early work into what is now called cognitive behavioural therapy.

Robertson’s clear writing style and to-the-point comments enliven the historical material, and the book itself is large and well laid out. Any hypnotherapist serious about their subject should have this book in their library. It is also a intriguing read for the layman.”

John O’Flynn, Hypnotherapist

This quintessential work should be obligatory study for anyone in the field of Hypnotherapy. Donald Robertson unfolds the history of this most powerful therapy, through the words and works, the experiments and demonstrations, of Dr. James Braid, in a straightforward, deeply educational and most enlightening fashion. Excellently researched, it recounts the journey of a highly respected doctor who set out to debunk the follies of Mesmerism and found the jewel of Hypnosis. If you wish to simply understand hypnosis, or study the subject in depth, this is most certainly the book to have. I would go so far as to say, shame on anyone in the field of Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, who remains ignorant of what this book contains.

Bryan Knight, Hypnotherapist

Many of today’s hypnotherapists may be shocked by the modernity of Dr Braid’s concepts of hypnotherapy. Born in Scotland in 1795, he died in 1860 leaving behind a body of work that laid the foundation for the scientific understanding of hypnotherapy.

This meticulous compilation of Braid’s prolific writings allows us to not only admire the brilliant surgeon’s theories but to be amazed at his anticipation of what we hitherto considered to be modern innovations such as cognitive behavioural therapy and the non-existence of the subconscious.

Braid took issue with Mesmerism, the fashionable therapy/entertainment of the 19th century. He distinguished the fantasies and fairy-tales of Mesmerism from the scientific approach he took with patients, many of whom he treated without charge. Read more…

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