TCU Mapping-Enhanced Counseling for Substance Users

Program Goals

TCU Mapping-Enhanced Counseling (formerly known as Node-Link Mapping Enhanced Counseling) is a cognitive technique for incorporating graphic visualization tools (“maps”) into the counseling process. Developed and researched at the Institute of Behavioral Research (IBR) at Texas Christian University (TCU), mapping-enhanced counseling works to improve the counselor–client relationship in areas such as goal development, problem solving, treatment engagement, and communication. As such, mapping enhanced counseling is seen as a powerful adjunct to the counseling experience, independent of the style or theoretical orientation of the clinician.

Program Components

There are three ways in which maps can be used with clients:

  1. Free or freestyle maps, in which ideas, thoughts, feelings, or other material is organized using “nodes” (boxes to capture key words or ideas) and “links” (lines that connect and show the relationships among the nodes). Free maps can be created between counselor and client in individual sessions or can be created on an erasable board as part of a group discussion. In addition, clients can be taught how to create their own free maps as part of homework, journaling, or personal problem solving.
  2. Guide maps, in which mapping templates are used to create worksheets for clients to complete, often using question prompts designed to help “guide” the client’s thinking about recovery issues such as steps needed to reach a goal or feelings that might lead to relapse. Guide maps may be used as a group activity, a homework assignment, or as an aid to self-study.
  3. Information maps, in which completed map templates are used to communicate knowledge in “small bites” to help clients learn faster. Information maps can be prepared for groups or individual sessions by a counselor. Or, clients working in groups can be assigned to create information maps based on what they learned in a particular session or from another information source.

Target Population

TCU Mapping-Enhanced Counseling can be used with adults and adolescents of both genders in substance abuse treatment programs, including community-based, residential, and criminal justice programs.

Program Theory

In using mapping, nodes and links are created based on key ideas from conversations in counseling sessions to graphically capture the “gist” of the matter for further discussion and processing. Maps help illustrate thoughts, feelings, actions, and goals and show how they are related or “linked” together. A “good” map is one that facilitates thinking and communication among all those involved. Mapping is based on cognitive network models of long-term memory, employing a simple, active declarative grammar that capitalizes on spatial organization to increase understanding and memory. As such, mapping is a cognitive adjunct to effective counseling— not an intervention in and of itself.

Intervention ID

18 to 100


Study 1

Drug Use

Joe and colleagues (1997) found that, for participants with less than 6 months treatment, 44 percent of the mapping group had urine samples that tested positive for opiates at the follow-up, compared with 63 percent for the comparison group. For the presence of cocaine in urine samples, only the time in treatment appeared significant, with 33 percent of participants staying longer than 6 months in treatment testing positive for cocaine, compared to 48 percent for those spending under 6 months in treatment.

HIV Risky Behavior

Although the mapping group reported less dirty needle use (15 percent) than the comparison group (21 percent), the difference was not significant. Additional analysis found that dirty needle use was related to time in treatment. Thirty percent of study participants that stayed in treatment for less than 6 months used a dirty needle compared to only 16 percent of those who stayed more than 6 months.


The mapping group reported significantly lower levels of criminality than the comparison group in all three measures used:

  • Fifteen percent of the mapping group reported illegal activity in the month before the follow-up interview, compared with 30 percent of the comparison group
  • Three percent of the mapping group reported being arrested in the month before the follow-up interview, compared with 22 percent of the comparison group
  • Six pecent of the mapping group reported being jailed in the month before the follow-up interview, compared with 23 percent of the comparison group

Psychosocial Status

Small but significant results were found between the mapping and comparison groups for psychosocial status. These showed that the mapping group reported lower self-esteem, lower confidence in decision-making, and more hostility than the comparison group.

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