Compensatory Strategies: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that compensatory strategies can be used to help cover up deficits in memory? In this lesson, we will learn about compensatory strategies by using examples.


Jack is a college sophomore who loves riding motorcycles. One day, Jack's motorcycle was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Jack was thrown off his bike, which resulted in several broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. Jack had to take the remainder of the semester off to recover.

Once Jack went back to college, he noticed that he couldn't function as well as he had before. He had trouble remembering things, difficulty concentrating, and was overwhelmed with the amount of material presented to him in classes. He went to see a psychologist for help and was taught several compensatory strategies.

Whenever we make a change in our environment or behavior to make up for something that we view as a limitation, we are using a compensatory strategy. Compensatory strategies are techniques or modifications to our behavior or environment that are used to compensate for a deficit, weakness, injury, or perceived inadequacy in a specific area or skill.

They help us cope with what we think of as a personal weaknesses. If cover up our deficits, we reduce the negative or unwanted consequences associated with those deficits.

Physical Impairment Example

Let's look at how Jack has used compensatory strategies to overcome physical impairment and be successful in college.

Jack's accident has impaired his memory. One compensatory strategy that Jack uses to help him with his memory deficits is to write down information in a journal. Jack keeps important phone numbers, emergency contact information, assignment due dates, and doctor's appointments in his journal. He also keeps a daily checklist of everything that he has to do. This helps Jack remember things he might forget just by using his memory.

Jack's ability to concentrate is impaired. Once compensatory strategy that Jack uses to help improve concentration is to devote his attention to one thing at a time, instead of trying to do multiple tasks at once. Whenever Jack has to do tasks that require him to pay attention for extended periods of time, he makes sure to take breaks every 10 minutes to prevent himself from losing focus. These strategies allow Jack to get the necessary information from his lectures and complete his assignments and other school related tasks.

In order to help Jack process the amount of information presented to him, Jack has a note-taker in his class that takes notes for him. Jack is given extra time to complete school assignments and meets with each of his professors once a week to make sure that he is understanding the material and ask questions. Jack is also given additional course materials to help him. With all of these supports in place, Jack is able to complete all of his courses and graduates on time.

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