Westerhof, prof.dr. G.J. (Gerben)

Prof.dr. G.J. Westerhof

Adjunct professor, Director Dutch Life Story Lab

Presence: Mo. - Fr.
Building: Cubicus, Room B118
Telephone: 053 - 489 6074; 053 – 489 4470 (secretary)
Fax: 053 – 489 2895


  • Narrative psychology: The construction of life stories contributes to identity development and mental health
  • Positive psychology: Mental health promotion is not only about reducing psychological complaints, but also about enhancing well-being and meaning in life
  • Psychogerontology: Older adults are generally well able to maintain their well-being and meaning in life, a process that is supported by youthful and positive cognitions about their own aging process


  • The individual (BA PSY, 1e jaar)
  • Narrative psychology (BA PSY 2e jaar)
  • Mental health promotion (MA PSY)
  • Supervision of bachelor theses (BA PSY, 3e jaar)
  • Supervision of master theses (MA PSY)

Research projects

Remembering and mental health
Cooperation with Prof. dr. J. Webster, Langara College (Vancouver), Prof. dr. J. Singer, Connecticut College, prof. dr. D. McAdams, Northwestern University, prof. dr. S. Bluck, University of Florida, and Prof. dr. E. Bohlmeijer, University of Twente

In this project we study personal memories in relation to mental health from a life course perspective. We contribute to theories about reminiscence and life review, autobiographical memories and life stories with a particular interest in identity development and mental health. Empirically, we use a large-scale internet survey (LISS panel) in which a representative sample of the Dutch population is asked to describe self-defining memories at three moments in time. We also develop instruments, such as the Northwestern Ego Integrity Scale, the Narrative Foreclosure Scale and the Balanced Time Perspective Scale to investigate memory processes and the role they play in interventions.

Croatian Memories
Cooperation with Prof. F. de Jong and dr. K. Truong, University of Twente

Expressing emotions plays an important role in stories about personal lives. In this study we examine emotional expression in language in relation to non-verbal behavior, using various advanced technologies to automatically analyze nonverbal behavior. We use a unique digital dataset of personal memories of war and violence in Croatia (

The stories we live by
Cooperation with Prof. dr. E. Bohlmeijer, J. Korte, dr. S. Lamers, dr. M. Postel, University of Twente

"The stories we live by" is an early intervention, aimed at middle-aged and older people with mild to moderate depression. The intervention is based on life review and narrative therapy. The doctoral research of Jojanneke Korte (2012, funded by ZonMw) showed that the group intervention is effective in reducing depressive symptoms and increasing well-being in a large randomized clinical trial. Currently, we investigate whether the intervention is also effective as a self-help with email counseling and as an online intervention.

Precious memories
Cooperation with Zorgcentrum de Posten en Zorggroep St. Maarten

The goal of this project (funded by both care groups as well as the VITOK program) is to bring vital and vulnerable older people together on the basis of the intervention 'precious memories'. Volunteers follow a training, supported by e-learning. They help vulnerable older people in the recollection of vivid positive memories of their own lives. The effectiveness of the intervention in reducing depression is examined.

The two-continua model of mental health and illness
Collaboration with prof. C. L. M. Keyes, Emory University, Prof. dr. E. Bohlmeijer and dr. S. Lamers, University of Twente

In this project we investigate the claim that mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. A positive definition of mental health includes both the presence of emotional well-being and optimal psychological and social functioning. In her doctoral thesis Sanne Lamers (2012, funded by the University of Twente) examined the psychometric properties of the Mental Health Continuum Short Form with advanced statistical methods. Using a longitudinal study in a representative internet panel (LISS panel), she found that positive mental health and mental illness are two continua that are only moderately related. Promoting positive mental health is an important new goal in mental health. This positive approach can also contribute to reducing psychological complaints. Several studies have shown that positive mental health can be effectively promoted.

Evaluation Study Happiness Route
Cooperation with Happiness Academy of Arcon, funded by ZonMW

In her doctoral research Laura Weiss performs a large-scale evaluation study of the effect of the Happiness Route in ten Dutch municipalities. The target group are people with low social-economic status and health problems who experience social isolation. Instead of looking at their problems they are asked: "What makes you happy and what do you want to do with your life?" Together with a consultant they look for an intrinsically motivated activity that contributes to their well-being. The intervention is based on self-determination theory and its effects on well-being are compared to care as usual in a randomized controlled trial. This study is one of the largest field studies in positive psychology.

Emotion regulation
Cooperation with GGNet and Roessingh Research and Development

In his doctoral research Youri Derks focuses on the question how portable biosensor technology and mobile coaching can improve psychotherapeutic clinical treatment of mental health patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The current state of the art allows for very light, portable and comfortable equipment that measures emotional arousal and gives feedback and coaching. Since emotional awareness is a central concept within most therapies for BPD it is assessed whether treatment results in more emotional awareness and whether biosensing and telemedicine may strengthen these effects.

Subjective aging
Cooperation with Prof. H. W. Wahl, Heidelberg University, Prof. M. Diehl, Colorado State University, prof. dr. A. Barrett, Florida State University, prof. dr. S. Whitbourne, University of Massachussetts

A young and positive age identity is associated with well-being and self-esteem, although we found that the relations are stronger in the United States than in European countries like the Netherlands and Germany. In an international group we are working on a theoretical model and a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies to further understand and investigate these relationships.

The first year in a somatic nursing: A longitudinal observational study of self-determination, adaptation and well-being
Collaboration with A. Custers, MSc., Prof. M. Riksen-Walraven and dr. Y. Kuin, Behavioral Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, and Dr. Mark van Vuuren, Twente University and dr. Boris Brummans, Université de Montréal

In her doctoral research, based on the self-determination theory, Annette Custers (2013, funded by the Radboud University Nijmegen) found that interactions between caregivers and residents of somatic nursing homes contribute to the fulfillment of psychological needs and thus to the well-being and mental health of the residents. In addition, in a theoretical article based on the socio-existentialist philosophy of Martin Buber we examined how the relationship between caregivers and residents are co-constructed in everyday mutual interactions.


Publication list