• Authentic Connections Groups

    Building strong, supportive relationships to foster resilience



    AC Groups is a nonprofit that fosters people's resilience by ensuring they have dependable, supportive relationships in their everyday lives and communities.




    Groups enhancing positive workplace climate

    AC Groups for "Those who give": Improving the workplace climate from the inside out.


    In institutions everywhere, there are adults known to be generous in extending support to others. With major stresses of the last couple of years, such people are more sought out than ever, and AC Groups benefit them in two ways. One, they get support themselves as they continue to give, and two, the effectiveness of their giving is increased as they incorporate new relational and coping skills learned during the program. AC Groups then come to have positive ripple effects in their workplaces.


    Groups for people seeking to build authentic connections

    AC Groups for adults seeking to maximize their own resilience & support networks 


    After registering for a one-on-one consultation (at no charge), people are placed in virtual groups with others like them. Examples include people in the same professional roles; those experiencing similar life events; and members of minority groups including LGBT+ individuals. On completing the AC Groups, participants have well-established support networks of their own. This enhances their well-being which in turn, benefits relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues.


    One-on-one consultations & presentations

    Dr. Suniya Luthar offers one-on-one consultations and presentations .


    Presentations include talks for parents, employees (e.g., school faculty/staff, Grand Rounds in hospitals), and leadership including school administrators and Board members.


    Dr. Luthar is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience working with educators and clinicians. Find out more at www.SuniyaLuthar.org.


    Message Dr. Luthar directly today!


    • The 12 week Authentic Connections Groups program meets once per week for virtual sessions.

    • Groups are made up of 5-6 participants from similar life situations, careers, or roles, and are facilitated by trained and experienced clinicians.

    • All group sessions are focused on developing positive coping skills and forging dependable close relationships with others.

    • At the end of the 12-week program, participants leave with new skills and tools. They also have handouts related to each session topic -- reviewing key concepts discussed -- that they keep and can apply in their relationships at home and work.


    • The fee structure has flexibility, with need-based sliding scale options.
    • Our general suggested donation fee, per session, is $100 -- reduced to only $50 through Spring 2022.
    • Participants can sign up for six weeks at a time (with the option to renew for the second half of the 12 session program). With $50 out-of-pocket per week, for a commitment of 6 meetings, this would amount to a maximum of $300 for 6 weeks and $600 for all 12 weeks.
    • All this said, we are flexible. We have never turned anyone away for lack of funds, ever since AC Groups were started five years ago. While completing the application form, you can certainly request a sliding scale fee!
    **Almost half of this (40%) can be deducted from participants' taxable income, as it goes directly to the nonprofit; 60% would be going directly to the group facilitator.


    • Allows people to join evidence-based support groups from anywhere with video-conferencing
    • Helps participants enhance supportive, nurturing relationships, with special attention to those in charge of caring for others
    • Provides a structured program focused on topics known to be important in forging and maintaining close relationships -- which are the cornerstone of resilience.
    • Has been validated in scientific publications, and is recommended by the National Academies of Science, Engineering as an effective intervention to foster resilience.

    Interested in joining an AC Group led by an experienced facilitator?



    Click the SIGN UP button above

    to submit an application form.


    Our Project Director will contact you to schedule a free one-on-one consultation

    to provide more information and answer any questions.


    Pay Online

    with credit, debit, or PayPal.


    Attend AC Groups sessions

    via Zoom.


    Start feeling more present and connected!

  • FAQs

    Here are some more questions that commonly come up about AC Groups:


    Public Broadcasting Service

    PBS shows Authentic Connections Groups in--person and virtually.

    Clip from the Raising Good Humans Podcast

        Dr. Aliza describes science-based Authentic Connections Groups



    "For all the moms out there, she's taken the research and put it into practice by creating nonprofit groups where moms can have and find authentic connections." - Dr. Aliza Pressman, Co-Founder Mount Sinai Parenting Center -


    Appreciating collaborators aligned with AC Groups’ mission:

    Proactively fostering wellness of those who take care of many others

    Behavioral Health / Healthcare Partners

    School / Educational Partners



    Schools and health care professionals benefit from improved coping skills and stronger networks of connections. Authentic Connections Groups are provided through institutions' wellness and Professional Development programs.


    "I have heard nothing but wonderful reports about AC Groups (from participants). I know people appreciated the time and your guidance. As we are sifting through the plans for the new year, I’ve been mulling in the back of my head a way for us to expand and build in this kind of experience for everyone. It’s a culture shift for us to simply allow ourselves time to reflect, but such a wonderful reminder – and advertisement as folks share the power of that time. Thank you again for your work, support, care… thank you!"

    Melanie Bauman, Director of Counseling and Health Education, The Webb Schools, CA


    "In a large school of almost 2,000 students, it’s very important to me that faculty and staff see a calm, centered, strong leadership at the helm. While I am generally able to hold space for the worry, emotion, and pain of others during this pandemic, these groups have allowed me incredibly valuable space to receive support of my own. They have brought me personal comfort and strength while also allowing a lens into what’s working particularly well at other schools, via insights shared by other leaders. I have been extremely grateful for this opportunity and will continue to draw upon authentic connections that I’ve forged."

    --- Anna Moore, Director of Student Support, The Westminster Schools, GA


    Interested in becoming a Partner in Wellness?

    Contact us for more information or to collaborate with us on community wellness!



    Across all research studies of AC Groups -- both in-person and virtual formats -- there were zero dropouts. Mean satisfaction ratings were over 9 / 10 and Net Promoter Scores (promoters vs. detractors) in the Excellent to World Class range

    Clinical trial with health care providers at the Mayo Clinic, AZ


    Based in longstanding research on relational interventions for mothers, the AC Groups program was first tested at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona as a means of enhancing resilience t among physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, all of who were mothers. Compared with women in a control group, those attending AC Groups showed statistically greater improvements across several aspects of well-being. They showed increases in perceived support from others and self-compassion, as well as reduced levels of burnout at work, personal distress, and the stress hormone cortisol. Strikingly, the relative gains shown by AC Groups mothers were still further improved three months later in follow up assessments.1, 2

    Clinical trial with nursing leaders at the Mayo Clinic, MN 


    A second randomized controlled trial was done with Nurse leaders who were mothers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Results showed that the AC Groups intervention was feasible and well-received by nurse leaders. AC Group participants showed significantly greater improvements than control mothers with medium to large effect sizes, as indicated by increases in feeling loved and self-compassion, along with reductions in depression, anxiety, perceived stress.3


    Virtual AC Groups for women  


    AC Groups were conducted in virtual format with five sets of women, all white-collar professionals with demanding careers, and most taking care of others at home as well as work.. Results showed that there were zero dropouts, as was the case in both Mayo in-person trials. Mean satisfaction ratings were 9.6 of 10 and the Net Promoter Score fell in the “world class” range.4


    Ambassadors of Authentic Connections Groups 

  •  MEDIA

    Recent features highlighting Dr. Suniya Luthar and Authentic Connections Groups!


    Suniya S. Luthar, PhD

    Founder, Executive Director, and Group Facilitator


    Founder & Executive Director of AC Groups, Dr. Suniya S. Luthar is Professor Emerita at Columbia University's Teachers College and also Co-Founder of Authentic Connections, an organization committed to school-based prevention. Dr. Luthar completed her Ph.D. In clinical & developmental psychology at Yale University and an internship at the Yale Child Study Center. Her research involves vulnerability and resilience among various at-risk populations including families affected by mental illness, and those in high-stress work and community settings. A licensed clinical psychologist since 1990, Dr. Luthar has long been committed to ensuring "care for the caregivers" with published intervention studies serving mothers, health care providers, & educators. For more details, please see www.SuniyaLuthar.org.

    Alexandra M. Ingram, PhD

    Project Director and Group Facilitator


    Dr. Alexandra M. Ingram completed her education and training in clinical psychology at Arizona State University, as well as clinical internship in health service and postdoctoral fellowship in couples and family psychology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Jackson, MS and Charleston, SC. Her research and clinical focus include children and families affected by adversity (e.g., divorce, bereavement, severe mental illness) and interventions to promote resilience and recovery from developmental, interpersonal, and systems-based approaches. She looks forward to continuing dissemination of published research and access to clinical interventions for at-risk groups in her current role as project director of AC Groups.


    Tracy Juliao, PhD

    Chief Advisor and Group Facilitator


    Dr. Juliao is a fully licensed health psychologist who owns an integrative mental healthcare practice with multiple locations in southeast Michigan. Professionally, Dr. Juliao has spent over 20 years working as a clinician, a business owner/leader, and an instructor at several universities, including Columbia University, Oakland University, and the University of Michigan. Dr. Juliao's early research interests included women's multiple roles via a lens of health and wellbeing. Growing out of her research, all aspects of her clinical work and teaching have continued to focus on integrative health, trauma, vulnerability, shame, energy psychology, and a whole person perspective, which has resulted in a lifetime of advanced education and certification in healing modalities inclusive of those speciality areas.

    Thomas Benenson

    President, Board of Directors


    Thomas Benenson has demonstrated life-long support and commitment to promoting gender equality and the welfare of women and particularly mothers. For many years, he has served as an escort at a Planned Parenthood health clinic. Additionally, he served an eight-year term as a founding member of the board of a non-profit organization, SAFE, the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, during which he was actively involved in fund-raising and other responsibilities of a "working" board. Mr. Benenson has followed and supported Dr. Luthar’s advocacy efforts for youth and families from 1985 onwards and is very pleased to have been on the Board of AC Groups since the nonprofit’s inception, in 2014. Since his retirement, Mr. Benenson lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and in New York City.



    Helen Burke, LMHCA

    Group Facilitator


    Helen Burke completed her academic and clinical mental health training at Antioch University in Seattle. She is currently a mental health counselor doing individual and group work with youth and parents through a non profit organization (Bainbridge Youth Services) dedicated since 1962 to promoting the social and emotional wellbeing of adolescents and young adults. Helen also does community outreach and education about youth wellness and the importance of supporting caregivers in the hard work of parenting. Counseling is a mid-life career change for Helen who practiced law before having kids. She has facilitated in person and online support groups in and around Seattle for several years and is regularly inspired by the power of group work.

    Elise Geithner, BSN, RN

    Member, Steering Committee & Board Secretary


    Elise Geithner is a pediatric acute care nurse with a background in pediatric palliative care, home hospice, and children with chronic illness. She is currently studying to be a pediatric nurse practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include compassion fatigue in pediatric medical professionals, supporting the needs of children with chronic critical illness in the hospital and at home, and early integration of palliative care in treatment plans for children with life-limiting conditions. She completed her BA in Human Biology at Stanford University/ She earned her BS in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and a Graduate Certificate in Pediatric Palliative Care from the University of Washington's Palliative Care Training Center.





    Janae Peters

    Member, Steering Committee & Group Facilitator


    Janae Peters completed her clinical social work training at the Smith College School for Social Work. She is an educator who actively integrates clinical social work into all aspects of the educational environment. She spends most of her time working with high school students at the Mastery School of Hawken, and with graduate students at Smith College School for Social Work. Additionally, she is actively engaged in the pilot stages of founding Prolific Shifts, a cohort space for Black educators and leaders to engage in personal and professional development. In every realm, she has engaged a relational and process oriented approach to learning with and supporting others, and has a highest goal of understanding how different social, political, historical, and environmental contexts influence our capacities for learning, growth, and transformation.

    Erika A. Brown, PsyD, DLLP, LPC

    Group Facilitator


    Dr. Erika A. Thomas-Collins is a Doctoral Limited License Psychologist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She received her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from the Michigan School of Psychology and her Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Phoenix. She is also a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, and Approved Clinical Supervisor. Dr. Erika has been working in mental health since 2008, obtaining experience in case management, home-based therapy, individual, couples, family, and group therapy, psychiatric hospital intake, and supervision/ management. In 2013 Dr. Erika established her own private practice in New Haven, Michigan. Dr. Erika’s area of interest and dissertation research was focused on racial identity development for Multiracial individuals. Her areas of clinical specialty include mood disorders, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD/trauma.

    Kimber Bogard, PhD

    Vice President, Board of Directors


    Kimber Bogard, PhD, is the Senior Officer of Planning and Advancement and Director of the Innovation to Incubation Program at the National Academy of Medicine. In these roles, she leads planning efforts and catalyzes internal and external partnerships and collaborations to bridge Academies’ consensus recommendations with implementation, to have a greater impact on health. She was formerly directed the Board on Children, Youth and Families at the Academies and before that, was Associate Director of the Institute of Human Development and Social Change at New York University. Kimber received her PhD in applied developmental psychology from Fordham University, and she holds a master’s degree from Columbia University-Teachers College.




    Sherry Chesak, PhD, RN

    Member, Steering Committee & Group Facilitator


    Sherry Chesak, Ph.D., R.N., is a Nurse Scientist in the Department of Nursing, Division of Nursing Research at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her program of research is centered on care for the caregiver, primarily focused on mindfulness-based interventions to enhance resilience among both professional and family caregivers of patients with complex health needs. She received a Master’s degree in Nursing Education from Winona State University and a PhD in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She has attended multiple trainings for teaching resilience principles and mindfulness practices and is certified by the Global Resilience and Inner Transformation Institute as a Resilience Trainer.

    Rina Gill

    Member, Board of Directors


    With a graduate training in Child Development, Rina Gill is an independent consultant on social development and communication issues. Her career spanned more than 40 years with the United Nations children's Fund (UNICEF). She was Associate Director, Policy & Planning, at UNICEF New York where she provided strategic leadership to ensure the integration of human rights principles, gender equality, and disability inclusiveness across UNICEF's global initiatives. Rina also served as Chief of Communication for Development at UNICEF headquarters. Before joining UNICEF, she worked for the National Planning Commission of India overseeing programs for working class mothers' children, and as an internationally awarded documentary filmmaker. Since retiring, Rina Gill has provided pro-bono support to several nonprofit groups to strengthen their advocacy and institutional management skills.

    Jennifer Reese, MD

    Member, Steering Committee & 
    Member, Board of Directors 


    Dr. Jenny Reese is the Section Head of Pediatric Hospital Medicine, and Associate Vice Chair for Faculty Well-being, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine. In addition to her clinical work as a hospitalist, she is also the Medical Director for Provider Well-being, Children's Hospital Colorado, leading work promoting well-being for health care providers at Children's Hospital Colorado, and Department of Pediatrics. This work focuses on understanding and mitigating burnout and promoting resilience for health care providers, including research interests in quality improvement. She enjoys facilitating workshops and public speaking on these topics.




    Amelia Walker, MSW, LLMSW

    Group Facilitator


    Amelia Walker (she/her) is a clinical social worker based out of southeast Michigan. She completed her social work training at the University of Michigan, focusing on integrated health and interdisciplinary treatment. Amelia works with clients of all ages with a focus on supporting the LGBTQIA2S+ community. She approaches her work with radical acceptance and centers clients’ needs and goals in her therapeutic approach; meeting clients where they are at is her priority. She has experience using DBT informed practice, mindfulness, motivational interviewing, CBT, and Trauma Focused CBT. Creating and fostering community relationships that are supportive, beneficial, and healing remains at the center of her practice.

    Susan Budinger

    Member, Board of Directors


    Susan Budinger is a developmental scientist dedicated to fostering the well-being of women and children through science-based interventions, and as such, she supported the formation of the science-based AC Groups. Budinger is a founder of Rodel, a group of non-profits dedicated to improving public education and the quality of elected leadership in the U.S. Before their formation, she was a director of Rodel, Inc., manufacturers of products used in semiconductor production. Budinger is vice chair of Rodel Delaware and the Rodel Leadership Institute. She is also a board member of the Hoffman Institute Foundation and a past member of the boards of the Arizona Community Foundation, the Arizona Early Education Funds, and Phoenix Country Day School. Budinger has a M.A. in developmental psychology from Arizona State University and a B.A. in mathematics and economics from Hamilton College.

    Amber Cunnings, LMFT

    Group Facilitator


    Amber Cunnings has been a Marriage and Family Therapist and art therapist for over 10 years. She provides AC groups because she believes that this approach creates more resilient and resourced people in the world which can only lead to good things! Amber has worked in various settings from inpatient hospitals to private practice and has a lot of humor, truth telling, story telling, and space holding that she can use to create the best possible group experience for anyone signing up. She attended Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California where she received her Master's degree. She currently owns her own practice based in the metro Detroit area of Michigan.


    Steve S. Lee, PhD

    Senior Advisor: Policy & Dissemination


    Dr. Steve Lee is Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology Training at UCLA’s Department of Psychology. He is also Associate Editor of the journal Clinical Psychological Science, and Past-President, Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP). Dr. Lee obtained his BA from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from UC Berkeley, and his post-doctoral fellowship in Psychiatric Genetics was done at the University of Chicago. Dr. Lee's ares of expertise include attention deficit and behavioral problems in children, with special attention to how these develop in families, and implications for treatment. Among Dr. Lee's honors is the American Psychological Association's Division 7 2021 Mavis Hetherington Award for Excellence in Applied Developmental Science.




    Pam Roy

    Member, Steering Committee & Member, Board of Directors

    Pam Roy is a philanthropist, investor, businesswoman, and community leader with a mission to provide transformational community-based mental health support for families and youth. She is co-founder of Straight Up Impact, a company at the intersection of film and social impact. As part of their Meaning in Madness film series, she collaborated with Big Picture Learning, to create B-Unbound, a community platform that connects 14-24-year-olds to supportive adults and peers around shared interests. It runs parallel to school systems and is free to all youth. Recognizing the key role meaning plays in wellness, Pam is the co-founder of the Viktor Frankl Institute of America and co-author of “The Inspiring Wisdom of Viktor E. Frankl.” She writes a blog that inspires parents to look at systemic issues affecting youth mental health and wellbeing.



    We would love the chance to connect with each of you! Contact us today!





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