Our mission is to create a more compassionate and empowered world through training courageous leaders in the arts of effective communication and group facilitation.
At The Connection Institute, we train the leaders of tomorrow to create a more connected and relational world.
When an individual decides to become a group facilitator they are embarking on a path of growth that is unique, and can only be understood by others who have walked that same path. We train leaders who are passionate about helping others and we are committed to serving these brave souls on this journey.
The search for meaning and depth is something that drives all humans, and the more we live into our potential and self-actualize, the more that quest becomes the guide for our whole lives.
Leading groups through navigating emotional topics has never been more relevant in human history.
People are longing for guidance that helps them find belonging and connection in their lives.
Let us guide the way.
Co-Founder | Lead Trainer
Peter Will Benjamin is one of the joyful co-founders of The Connection Institute. As lead staff trainer and CEO he delights in caring for the staff and students. Peter also works as a Professional Coach and teaches continuing ed for Coaches and Therapists. Peter’s mission is to support everyone he knows in feeling worthy of love and goodness, and accessing their personal power. He’s also an intimacy junkie, community builder, and dancer.
CEO | Lead Trainer
Jen is the Head Trainer and CEO of The Connection Institute.
Jen has always been obsessed with culture. While studying for her Master’s in Sociology she discovered her passion for group communication and connection through embodied leadership. For the last 8 years, Jen has worked with a variety of groups to create powerful transformative experiences through embodiment practices, circling, and group coaching transformative experiences. Today she focuses on teaching leaders of groups how to create safety and welcoming- first within ourselves- and then cultivating a culture in the groups we lead.
Co-Founder | Lead Trainer
Mark Boughton has been studying communication skills and the psychology of relationships and interpersonal dynamics for over a decade. By the time he was twenty two, he had worked, traveled or volunteered on every continent of the globe, and had discovered a deep passion for understanding people. He stumbled upon the world of therapy and coaching in his early twenties, immediately knew his calling, and has been facilitating relational practice ever since. He has a love for building community and bringing people together to connect, and also works as a coach helping people vision and actualize their deepest desires.
On a mission to bring people closer, Fei has dedicated her life and work to learning and teaching about connection. Authenticity, vulnerability, non-judgment, and ownership are some of Fei’s core values that she brings to this practice. Her primary work as a cuddle therapist and intimacy coach has been deeply enriched by circling (and vice versa). Fei brings her appetite for relational exploration to her work with individuals, groups & professionals, helping them deepen their relationship with themselves and others. You’ll find her facilitating connection everywhere she goes, but most particularly in Los Angeles, CA where she is based.
Community manager | Lead Trainer
Rachel’s introduction to the world of Authentic Relating and Circling began in 2019. At the time she was simply looking to up-level her leadership capacity, as she was in the throws of founding her third business. Little did she know this work would enthrall and infect her. Rachel has since dedicated her career to leading herself and others into deeper connection. She especially loves inviting risk into the brave spaces she is committed to creating. In her spare time she enjoys nerding out on philosophy and psychology, playing in nature, and loving on her babies (both furred and un-furred).
Damian Gallagher has a passion for people and exploring what is available in every moment. He loves the simplicity of living a life in connection with self and others. Damian considers one of his greatest relational strengths to be revealing his inner world when he’s feeling awkward or vulnerable (and he feels awkward writing this Bio). He thrives when working with others and enjoys facilitating Circling, AR games and Relational work. Damian also facilitates one on one Personal growth and Transformational work, as well as Men’s work exploring accountability, shadow, and presence. He finds pleasure in movement and embodiment and also delights in finding moments of slowness and stillness. Damian lives in Santa Barbara, CA with his wife and son.
Indigo Dawn (they/them/elle) is a transformational coach, love activist, and touch therapist who LOVES to catalyze life-changing experiences for others. They are the Program Director for Center for a New Culture; the Founder & Co-Director of the Consent Program for Interfusion Festival; and have organized hundreds of catalytic workshops and multi-day retreats with 10-1500 attendees. As a conference speaker and facilitator, Indigo helps participants build loving relationships with themselves and others– with skills like emotional dexterity, responsive boundaries, and skillful communication. As a personal coach, they support changemakers to transmute the pain of past wounds and find joyous inspiration to create the life– and world– that they most yearn for.
Cat Gelinas is a Development Coach, Teacher, and the Co-Founder of the Yugen Institute. She’s a professional nerd of the art & science of being human and teaches people how to create lives they love.
Since 2005, she has trained in consciousness development, shadow work, ancestral healing, relational skills, leadership, and more. She has coached and taught others on their journey to explore what it is to be a human, to expand capacities, & work with their humanity.
Her delight in life is to meet people where they are and, with welcoming and compassionate curiosity, bring to light what people are needing and support them in their evolution towards aliveness.
Cameron Grayson was living at the Omega institute when she was introduced to Authentic Relating. These practices were so impactful for her because they served as a grounded way to deepen all of her connections within the community. These tools completely shifted her relationship with herself and the world around her. She quickly realized how perfectly AR and Circling intertwined with other tools she practiced such as Internal Family Systems, Life Coaching, and Conscious Communication. When she moved back in with her parents she joined the online platform as a participant. Having a daily reminder of pure connection supported her in moving through relationships that felt disconnected. Her practice on COnnect started to shift those disconnected relationships with her family to feel more open, grounded, and clear. Seeing this impact, she signed up for the ALT where she learned what it meant to truly feel like herself. She now uses Authentic Relating and circling in her work as a container to help facilitate meaningful connection and develop a deeper understanding of self. Having an accessible way to impact the world through facilitating on COnnect supports her passion of being in deep connection with others while witnessing the present moment unfold.
Zoe is committed to supporting individual transformation through bodywork, nutrition, therapeutic exercise, and self-care. Zoe got an early start in the field at age nine through Jin Shin Jyutsu, an energy healing modality. Through her own journey, Zoe discovered the power of nutritional choices and continues to be motivated with the understanding that what you put in your body has the ability to transform your quality of life.
Zoe Benjamin received her formal training at the Florida School of Massage and has most recently been studying Muscular Therapy, Orthopedic Massage, and Active Isolated Stretching with Dr. Ben E. Benjamin (who just so happens to be her father). Zoe welcomes individuals seeking treatment of specific injuries, as well as those focused on relaxation and self-care maintenance.
Jess / Jingshu Zhu is among a few Avant Garde’s in China who talk openly about sexualities and psychedelics. At a certain point she realized that for a lot of people talking about emotions can be as taboo and as liberating.
Therefore she founded Circling China a platform that aims to bring more aliveness to China through authentic relating. She trains Circling facilitators and gives workshops around emotional intelligence. She also coaches people to develop a better relationship with food, sex and money.
Jess used to be a high-performing yet unhappy academic but over the past 5 years through meditation dance bodywork and authentic relating her life has become way more balanced and fulfilling. She shares her personal stories and insights in her blog and podcast which has inspired many people to be more brave and free.
Svetlana Lilova discovered Authentic Relating in late 2016 and soon became awed by its power to cultivate authenticity, freedom, and genuine connection. In 2018 she began to more intentionally pursue AR and circling, and has since facilitated and hosted events with AR Toronto, trained and co-facilitated with ART International (Level 1) and Realness Project, and is currently facilitating on the Connection Institute Platform.
Svetlana is passionate about art and all things human, including fostering, for herself and others, awareness, aliveness, creativity, space of self, an inner life, surrender, and vulnerability – the currency of connection.
Svetlana is also a writer, a Registered Psychotherapist in private practice, and runs private groups in Toronto, Canada.
Sophie Kruip is an enthusiast, project catalyst, and “vision doula.” She studied in Theatre Arts, specifically immersive and site-specific work, and trained in group facilitation under Dr. Hazel-Grace Yates, Sara Ness, and Jason Digges. Authentic Relating, and Circling practices have expanded her capacity to hold more complexity, and brought incredible people into her life. Her dream is to invite more of this aliveness, joy, and honest connection into the mainstream.
A.J. is a Toronto-based writer, filmmaker, and shame educator certified by the Center for Healing Shame in Berkeley. After experiencing a life-changing “shame breakthrough” in therapy several years ago, A.J. dedicated himself to educating others about our “master emotion” through Shame Ed classes and one-on-one coaching. A.J. is the host of the podcast Discomfortable and author of the book by the same title published by North Atlantic Books.
Emma van den Boogert
Emma has a big passion for being real together. Holding space for (self)connection, learning, empowerment and honesty is the most meaningful thing for her. She started doing Non-Violent Communication (NVC) courses in 2014 and followed trainings by multiple certified trainers and is dedicated to become a certified trainer herself. A few years later she discovered Circling and this felt like a natural extension of NVC to her. She continued both and also deepened her practice by doing courses in bodywork, Tantra, The Wheel of Consent, meditation, The Polyvagal Theory and Buddhism.
Christine Fransen is a Transformational Coach (training in Sophrology and Psych-K) living in the south of France. She is trilingual and she is passionate about the evolution of the human potential in the realm of relationships and the emergence of collective wisdom. She recently went through a conscious uncoupling process that brought her marriage to completion. Today, she dedicates herself to guide others how to move through difficult experiences with grace and dignity, enhance and deepen radical trust in life, and feel more alive.
Ralf came in contact with Circling and RIA after having immersed for five years in Non-Violent Communication. He is founder of an offline community in Connective Communication located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This form combines the explorative nature of the inquiry and the clarity on empathy of NVC. Next to RIA-like Connected Meditations, there are also NVC-based lessons aimed at bringing authenticity and connection to everyday life.
In daily life, Ralf works as a Hypnotherapist. He loves to dance, and used to teach Contact Improvisation. His international career as a light artist and sculptor is now, due to his passion in the Relating field, reduced to one or two projects a year.
Trained as a scientist and naturally expanding towards a people oriented, creative being with a holistic focus, Gerd engages in an inquiry into healthy balance; balance in his relationships with others and the parts of him self.
In his connections with others he finds aliveness and heartening in the welcoming of “what is” in the moment and the experience of our common humanity.
An open-minded person with a devotion to learning through looking at the world from the perspective of others, an openness to explore every idea or experience and a love for the emerging wonder of interconnectedness.
Ben is devoted to working and playing with others in transformative dialogue, whether through relational inquiry, authentic relating, conflict mediation, counseling, dialogos and group dialogue. He is lucky to have trained in relational inquiry with Peter Benjamin and Jason Digges and is excited to be a part of the team at RLA. What is possible in the collective when each person is resourced to participate congruently from their deepest truth? Ben is continually renewing his commitment to hold the paradox of self-acceptance and growth with ease. He lives in Scotland with his partner.
Daniela brings her openness, vulnerability, love, curiosity, body awareness and welcome into Inquiries and Circles. She loves supporting people to find their power and wisdom within themselves. She and her twin sister Melanie are the founders of Be Authentic, where they combine their work with communication and embodiment. Since 2014, Daniela has led courses, workshops, and organizes festivals in Germany, Europe, and around the world. She loves to dance (Contact Improv) bodywork, massage, and acrobatics, which support and deeply influence her communication work.
Melanie is an enthusiastic communication, movement, and relationship facilitator. She and her twin sister Daniela founded the organization Be Authentic, which combines Authentic Relating, Circling with Embodiment, and Community in Berlin, Germany. Besides communication, she loves working with the body in the form of bodywork, contact improvisation, massage techniques, Acro Yoga and embodiment. She integrates all of this into her work as a leader to find deep and safe ways to fully integrate and embody communication. Since 2014, she has been leading and organizing classes, workshops, and festivals around the world.
Lisette van der Valk
Lisette is an experienced coach and professional believer in people. She aims to bring out the brilliance in other humans so they can enjoy their life fully and fulfilled. She completed her facilitator training with TCI.
When she’s not coaching, consulting or facilitating, you can find Lisette singing in choir, making candles or cuddling with her cat Kuma.
Olga Shustryakova is the leader of Authentic Relating Moscow. She first met with Authentic Relating & Relational Inquiry Approach in 2018, and immediately fell in love with the practices. Since then, she has been leading Relational Inquiry & Authentic Relating Nights for various Moscow communities, including Burning Man Russia and more.
Besides that, Olga is a professional translator and transcreator, localizing global ideas for Russian people. She’s into psychology, meditation, literature, and digging in the depths with her loved ones.
Laura is an artist and healer with an educational background in trauma, life coaching, and theatre. She is passionate about creating opportunities for conscious connection, deep inner work and integration, and healing through community.
Laura has always found herself feeling more fulfilled when communicating in open and truthful ways. When she discovered the world of Authentic Relating, she was relieved to find people who crave and practice radical honesty.
Laura’s other loves include acting, singing and playing music, board games, hiking and camping, dancing, and her 2 cats Willow and Pip.
Gabe is a personal development coach & facilitator helping mission-driven humans live in alignment with their purpose.
He left his tech job to travel the world by bike, and in the process found his calling in coaching.
His approach to personal growth is rooted in neuroscience-based CoActive coaching techniques and Authentic Relating, with a heaping spoonful of Japanese philosophy on top.
Gabe was born in Philadelphia and currently lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado. He’s passionate about cycling, foraging wild mushrooms, social/climate justice, and the transformative power of psychedelics. You can learn more about Gabe’s work, his story, and connect with him at www.effectiveconnetion.com.
John Adams has co-led dozens of in-person circling evenings, multiple circling weekends, and is currently assisting in our RIA Leadership & Group Coaching Program.
John is also a contact improv dancer/teacher, therapeutic bodyworker, and monk in a contemplative wisdom tradition. He recently completed a 50k-word thesis (referencing over 600 sources) at McGill, largely on the subjects of attention, embodiment, and social connection, and their importance for human health and well-being.
For John, it pretty much all comes back to whole-systems well-being.