Building supportive, authentic connections to foster resilience in

    the face of stress





    AC Groups strive to implement community-based support groups in people's everyday settings, to help foster resilience in the face of high stress. Groups have been successfully conducted in a virtual formats well as in-person, benefiting various groups of women through challenging times.




    AC Groups is a nonprofit developed around the Authentic Connections Groups program, an intervention that supports mothers in the face of stressful life conditions. In turn, this benefits their families: the single most important factor in promoting resilience among children is strong, supportive relationships with primary caregivers --who are usually mothers.



    Tom Benenson - President

    Kimber Bogard - Board Member

    Susan Budinger -Vice President

    Elise Geithner - Secretary

    Nikhil Kumar - Treasurer

    Nina Kumar - Board Member

    Suniya Luthar - Board Member




    Suniya S. Luthar, Ph.D.

    Founder and Executive Director

    Founder and Executive Director of Authentic Connections, 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 and developmental psychology at Yale University and a clinical 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. Dr. Luthar has been a licensed clinical psychologist since 1990, and has long been committed to ensuring "care for the caregivers" with published intervention studies serving mothers, health care providers, and educators. For details on her intervention work, research publications, and professional honors, please see www.SuniyaLuthar.org.

    Tracy Juliao, Ph.D.

    Senior Advisor: Clinical Practice


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


    Janae Peters

    Steering Committee Member

    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, a school working to transform education by fiercely centering student learning and growth, and graduate students at Smith College School for Social Work, where she has taught Group Theory and Practice and School 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 always has a highest goal of understanding how different social, political, historical, and environmental contexts influence our capacities for learning, growth, and transformation.


















    Steve S. Lee, Ph.D.

    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

    Steering Committee Member


    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 and challenges parents to look at systemic issues affecting youth mental health and wellbeing.



    Alexandra M. Ingram, Ph.D.

    Project Director

    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.





    Sherry Chesak, Ph.D., R.N.

    Steering Committee Member



    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.

    Megan Smith, Ph.D., MPH

    Steering Committee Member

    Dr. Megan Smith’s areas of expertise include maternal mental health, postpartum depression, childhood poverty, and community-based interventions. Megan received her MPH degree at the Yale University School of Public Health, and her doctoral degree in Maternal and Child Health at Boston University School of Public Health. While an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and in the Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine, she created an innovative community-based program: the Mental health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership. She remains involved with the MOMS program as Founder and Director, and is currently working to transform systems of mental health care for low-income women at the state level, with a focus on reducing mental health inequities related to race, ethnicity and poverty. Megan serves as Principal Investigator on studies ranging from the epidemiology of depressive and anxiety disorders in the perinatal period to the use of mobile health technology to reduce depression in mothers.















    Learn about AC Groups from PBS


    The 12 week Authentic Connections Groups program involves 
    weekly 1-hour virtual group sessions that enhance support for 
    people with demanding, stressful lives. 
    Groups include 5-6 participants from similar backgrounds, 
    and are facilitated by trained and experienced clinicians.


    Recent Podcasts featuring Authentic Connections Groups

    Society for Thoracic Surgeons (podcast). Oct 1. The resilient surgeon: Dr. Suniya Luthar
    Raising Good Humans (podcast) Sep 24. Who Is mothering mom? A conversation with Dr. Suniya Luthar and Dr. Aliza Pressman


    • Allow people to join evidence-based support groups from anywhere with video-conferencing
    • Help participants enhance supportive, nurturing relationships with others like them -- such as mothers or fathers with children of different ages, people in demanding jobs, those dealing with divorce or separation, members of ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ groups, and more.
    • Provide 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.



    Across all research studies of AC Groups -- including in-person and virtual formats -- there werezero dropouts.

    Mean satisfaction ratings were over 9 / 10 and Net Promoter Scores (promoters vs. detractors) in the

    Excellent to World Class range


    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 reducing burnout among physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, all of whom were mothers. Compared with women in a control group, those attending AC Groups showed statistically greater improvements across several aspects of well-being: reductions in the biological stress hormone cortisol and in professional burnout, stress, depression, anxiety, as well as increased support from others and self-compassion. Strikingly, the relative gains shown by AC Groups mothers were still further improved three months later in follow up assessments.1, 2



    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 reductions in s in depression, anxiety, perceived stress, and increases in feeling loved and self-compassion.3



    AC Groups were conducted in virtual format with five sets of women, all white-collar professionals with stressful, demanding careers, and most also primary caregivers of their children. 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


    1. Luthar, S.S., ... Engelman, J.C., &. Stonnington, C. M. (2017). Fostering resilience among mothers under stress: “Authentic Connections Groups” for medical professionals.

    2. Stonnington, C.M., & Luthar, S.S. (2020). Authentic Connections Groups contribute to resilience and less burnout among physician mothers.

    3. Chesak, S.S., Bhagra, A., Cutshall, S... Luthar, S. S. (2020). Authentic Connections Groups: A pilot test of an intervention aimed at enhancing resilience among nurse leader mothers.

    4. Luthar, S. S, Kumar, N. L., & Benoit R. (2019). Toward fostering resilience on large scale: Connecting communities of caregivers. Development & Psychopathology, 31, 1813-25.




    "This group has been the most life-giving experience since becoming a mom … it has been a hard adjustment transitioning from a nurse leader to a nurse leader with young children … For the first time in the past few years I feel like I found a place that is safe to talk about the frustrations, ups, downs, challenges, vulnerabilities and real-life aspects of being a working mother."

    “It is great to be able to relate to other working moms in healthcare. It is important to feel connected, supported, understood, and listened to. I think for some moms, including myself, it is easier to tell ourselves that living in stress is the ‘new norm' and just keep going without exploring the opportunity to connect with others. I almost wish this group intervention can be made mandatory to all as I was skeptical before signing up for it but having been a participant, I'm so glad I did.”


    "You must make and take time to yourself and this group provides a safe, authentic space to be vulnerable and honest with yourself and other women. The AC Group is a true gift and I wish I could share it with other women."

    "An online support group where a woman can be herself and still be accepted and loved for who she is at her core … these groups are a way to gain new insight from fellow women/mothers around the US with minimal time commitment."

     - Luthar et al., 2019

    "Given the low cost and ease of access—from mothers’ own workplaces, homes, or even while traveling—such virtual groups might be considered a useful model to be explored further in future work with mothers"



    Interested in joining an AC Group led by Dr. Luthar or an experienced facilitator? Please apply here.



    Fees for participation:

    • The fee structure has flexibility, with need-based sliding scale options.
    • Our general suggested donation fee is $100 per session; 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.
    • 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 $100 out-of-pocket per hour, for a commitment of 6 meetings, this would amount to a maximum of $600 for 6 weeks and $1200 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!

    For more information, please contact info@ACGroups.org

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