JANUARY 4 is World Hypnotism Day, which exists to raise awareness of the benefits of hypnotism. There are still many misconceptions around hypnosis, and many people will not be aware of the prominent role a Scot played in the development of what we now know as hypnotherapy.

James Braid may be a name known among Scottish golfers. However, there was another James Braid, born in Kinross-shire in 1775, who went on to be known as the “Father of Hypnosis”. Braid was educated under the Leith surgeons Thomas and Charles Anderson and at the University of Edinburgh.

Braid went on to work in Lanarkshire and Dumfries, and later Manchester, where he gained a reputation as a talented surgeon, correcting deformities such as spinal curvature and club foot. It is thought that it was while he was in Manchester that he first became interested in what we call now hypnosis.

Braid attended the Manchester Athenaeum in 1841 and watched a performance of animal magnetism by the French mesmerist demonstrator Charles Lafontaine, where he put audience members into a trance-like state. Mesmerism was named after the German doctor Franz Mesmer, who considered that this animal magnetism was an invisible natural force and could by induced by trance.

Braid considered Lafontaine to be a charlatan. He did accept that these audience members had entered a different state of consciousness and was interested in exploring this phenomenon. However, he thought it was unlikely that magnetism was the cause, as Lafontaine claimed.

After conducting a number of experiments on himself and others and discovering that he could induce a different state of consciousness through trance and holding an object in front of their eyes, Braid published a book, Neurypnology or The Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism, in 1842.

Braid considered this trance-like state was a form of sleep and therefore named it hypnosis after the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos. It it believed he later regretted the name as he found that people could be put into trance without any sign of sleep. However, it was too late and it stuck.

Braid believed hypnosis was good at helping to manage nervous disorders. He complemented his surgery with hypnosis to help his patients deal with a number of problems, such as rheumatism, spinal conditions and strokes. It is said he maintained interest in hypnosis until his death in the 1860s.

In 1997, the James Braid Society was formed in recognition of his contribution to the scientific understanding and medical applications of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. The society operates as a social gathering and discussion forum for hypnotherapists. It usually holds monthly meetings.

Two other University of Edinburgh graduates played a prominent role in the development of hypnotherapy. John Elliotson founded the London Mesmeric Infirmary in 1849, and James Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon who worked for the East India Company, found that hypnosis was helpful in reducing pain during surgery.

Hypnosis works by putting an individual in a very relaxed state of mind where the subconscious mind becomes more open to positive suggestion. Hypnotherapy is a complementary medicine in which hypnosis is used to make positive changes and help reach goals. Hypnotherapy is very flexible and can help people in many ways, such as stopping smoking, stress management and reaching the weight they want.

Hypnotherapy can also work alongside conventional medicine to reduce pain and aid healing in a range of conditions, such as IBS.

Stephen McMurray