Meet the author: Professor Barbara Wilson

Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test - Third Edition (RBMT-3) - Meet the author: Professor Barbara Wilson

Where did you study/what did you study/what are your qualifications?

Barbara Wilson

My bachelor’s degree in psychology was awarded by Reading University. I went to university at the age of 30 as a mature student, married and with three school aged children.

From Reading I went to the Institute of Psychiatry in London to complete my in clinical psychology. I also registered for a PH.D at the Institute of Psychiatry and completed this while working full time as a clinical psychologist (it took me six years).

Professional experience?

I have worked in brain injury rehabilitation for over 32 years. I have won several awards for my work, including an OBE for services to medical rehabilitation in 1998 and two lifetime achievement awards: one from the British Psychological Society and one from the International Neuropsychological Society. 

In 2011 I will receive the Ramon Y Cahal award from the International Neuropsychiatric Association. I have published 18 books, over 270 journal articles and chapters and 8 neuropsychological tests.

I am editor-in-chief of the journal “Neuropsychological Rehabilitation”, which I established in 1991. In 1996 I founded the Oliver Zangwill Centre for Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

This is a centre for people with non–progressive brain injury. It aims to provide high quality rehabilitation for the individual cognitive, social, emotional and physical needs of people with acquired brain injury.

It was named after Oliver Zangwill, the founder of British neuropsychology who carried out important work with brain injured soldiers during World War II. A rehabilitation centre in Quito, Ecuador is named after me. It was opened by Drs Martha De La Torre and Guido Enriquez Bravo.

It is called CENTRO DE REHABILITACION NEUROLOGICO INTEGRAL CERENI "BARBARA A. WILSON". This centre accepts people with non-progressive brain injury and is staffed by neuropsychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists.

I am currently president of the Encephalitis Society, Vice president of the Academy for Multidisciplinary Neurotrauma and on the management committee of The World Federation of Neuro Rehabilitation. The Division of Neuropsychology has named a prize after me, the Barbara A Wilson prize for distinguished contributions to neuropsychology.

I am a Fellow of The British Psychological Society, The Academy of Medical Sciences and The Academy of Social Sciences.

What are your current projects?

In September 2007 I officially retired. However, I still spend about three days a month at the Oliver Zangwill Centre and another three days a month at The Raphael Medical Centre in Kent. At these two centres I perform a mixture of clinical work, staff training and advising on research projects. I also travel overseas at least once a month to give lectures and workshops on neuropsychological rehabilitation. I am currently writing my memoirs for my grandchildren.

Who have you worked with?

When I first qualified as a clinical psychologist I worked with children with severe learning difficulties and three excellent psychologists: Janet Carr, Glynis Murphy and Pat Howlin.

In 1979 I moved to Rivermead Rehabilitation Centre in Oxford and began my career in brain injury rehabilitation. Soon after this I started working with Alan Baddeley and continued this collaboration for a number of years.

I have also worked with Narinder Kapur, Karalyn Patterson and Jonathan Evans. Jonathan was a trainee of mine who came to work with me after training and we worked together for 14 years. Other students and trainees whom I am proud to have known are Nick Alderman, Jane Powell and Linda Clare.

What inspired you to get into this field?

During my clinical training, I was taught neuropsychology by Tony Buffery. I also spent four months completing a clinical placement with him. He was a good teacher and a very funny man (he had once been in the “Cambridge Footlights”). He made neuropsychology fascinating.

I knew I wanted to work in this field but there were no jobs available within commuting distance when I qualified so, instead, I worked in what was then called “mental handicap”. Two years later, the post in neuropsychological rehabilitation came up in Oxford. I moved there in 1979 and knew from my first day that this was the work I wanted to do for the rest of my career.

If you weren’t a clinical neuropsychologist, what would you be?

For many years I wanted to be a midwife. I think that delivering babies must be a very rewarding job. My pipe dream is to have been musically talented and be a world class cellist.

What do you do away from work? Hobbies? Favourite bands/sports teams/holiday destinations?

My family is important. My eldest daughter, Sarah, died in a white water accident in Peru in May 2000. I have a surviving daughter, Anna, and a son Matthew. I also have four grandchildren. I am involved with The Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents and siblings.

I travel frequently both for work and for pleasure. I have visited 89 independent countries so far and want to get to 100 before I die. I like challenges. In 2008 I completed the London Marathon and in 2010 my husband and I completed a charity trek in the Transylvanian Alps. I go to the gym and the swimming pool nearly every day.


Quick questions:


What’s your favourite book, and why?

Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The story is compelling and the characters convincing.

What’s your favourite album, and why?

“Times they are a changin’” by Bob Dylan. This was Dylan’s third album. His first came out the year Mick and I were married. This album reminds me of the early years of our marriage, our hippy days, the birth of our first two babies and the optimism we felt about being able to change the world.

Who’s your favourite musician/composer/singer, and why?

Dylan. His constantly changing mood, his lyrics, his strange voice with its ability to get under one’s skin speak to me more than other musicians.

Whom do you most admire, and why?

Nelson Mandela. His lack of bitterness after such treatment he received, his courage, his gentleness and his good humour show us a truly great human being.

Barbara founded the Oliver Zangwill Centre in 1996 and is Visiting Scientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.

What do you think?