Systemic empathy with adults affected by intellectual disabilities and their families

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This article explores how we might bring forth and value the voice of the person with intellectual disabilities alongside the voice of their family and carers so that all those present can feel understood and appreciated. We offer a description of systemic empathy as the ability to connect with one person while maintaining the possibility of connecting with other individuals in the system and at the same time tuning in to those people's connections with each other. We share examples from practice that challenge our ability to work empathically when there are several people in the same room holding different or opposing perspectives and who evoke different emotional reactions in us. We offer principles and practices through which we have been able to make empathy systemic with examples from our work with adults with intellectual disabilities and their families. These include empathizing through curiosity and irreverence, co-creating meanings with more than one person, double listening with ears, eyes and bodies, preparing our own emotional postures, taking the perspectives of others and creating reflecting processes.

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