University of Iowa

John Westefeld

John Westefeld, black and white photograph
Since 1991, John Westefeld has served the college in multiple capacities, including as a professor and as director of the Counseling Psychology program. Much of his research, teaching, publishing, and workshop presentations for over 35 years has focused extensively on the topic of suicide.

Westefeld’s work in the college was marked by passion for his students and the subjects he studied, and he leaves a legacy of making a difference in the lives of many.

“John is always a calming voice of reason,” says Tim Ansley, associate professor, DEO of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, and former colleague of Westefeld’s. “Earlier in my career, he went out of his way to include me on several projects with his research team. I truly enjoyed those collaborations, and I learned a great deal about being a research mentor from him.”

During his career, Westefeld greatly impacted suicide awareness at the University of Iowa and beyond; he was also president of the Society of Counseling Psychology, Division 17, of the American Psychological Association, and his presidential project was suicide prevention.

Westefeld had both a personal and professional connection to suicide, with multiple people in his life struggling or ultimately ending their lives because of it. These connections fueled his work, and he committed his life’s work to educating the public in order to prevent future suicides.

“My specific interests as a psychologist go way, way back,” Westefeld says, noting that a friend of his committed suicide when he was young. “The work I have done is my way of giving back to him.”

Westefeld leaves a legacy through the work he accomplished on the topic that he is so greatly passionate about.

“The whole area of suicide is the thing I’m most proud of,” Westefeld says. “I have tried to do things to make people more aware of the issue, and help people to be educated about it, and help them know what do to if they’re worried about someone or themselves.”

Westefeld believed, and taught his students, that suicide rates could be reduced by reaching out to those who show suicidal symptoms, encouraging them to seek treatment, and providing them with education programs.

After a successful 25-year career at the college, Westefeld will retire in June 2016, but he plans to stay very active in the psychology community.

“I’m a volunteer for hospice, so I’m going to do that more,” Westefeld says. “I’m also going to become president of the Free Medical Clinic board of directors in the summer, and I may open a small private practice. I also may keep writing some things here and there.”