Does Virtual Treatment for Mental Health Conditions Work?


Recently, Sanford Behavioral Health opened its virtual intensive outpatient program for primary mental health conditions. This means individuals with anxiety and depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and other mental health conditions learn coping skills in the privacy of home. Programs are trauma-focused, and we utilize the primary therapeutic intervention for these disorders, dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT teaches individuals interpersonal effectiveness skills, mood regulation, and distress tolerance. Distress tolerance is really about how to accept life-on-life stressors and manage them without having one’s mental health falter when inevitable stressors get in the way.


Does Virtual Treatment for Mental Health Conditions Work?

DBT-certified and EMDR-trained Mental Health Clinical Manager Jennifer A. Barajas, MS, LPC,  says, “Everything we do in mental health treatment is trauma-focused, with trauma-informed care and groups. We also include cognitive behavioral therapy, so we are changing belief systems about how our clients view the world, themselves, and others. Often, our belief systems and what we hold true are intergenerationally passed on to us. We work through these thoughts and responses with the individuals in our care.”


Why Virtual Treatment Works for Mental Health Conditions

Sanford Behavioral Health has offered virtual addiction treatment options since before the pandemic. Virtual treatment (telehealth) is designed for those who need help with a mental health condition but have real-life obligations like work, school, or childcare. If in-person treatment is inconvenient or impossible because of a remote location or physical restrictions, virtual options have become a viable alternative. Likewise, our intensive outpatient programs have flexible schedules and meet only three hours per day, three days per week.


At Sanford West Behavioral Health Campus,  we have psychiatric, medical, clinical, dietary, recreational, and integrative programming under one roof. This means an individual gains access to the entire collaborative care team when they sign on to virtual programs. Once a therapeutic relationship is established, it is possible to access care across the spectrum of services at Sanford, including care for co-occurring disorders. Often, when someone has one mental health condition, it is accompanied by other mental health conditions—for example, depression and addiction or OCD and eating disorders.


Benefits of Virtual Treatment for Mental Health Conditions

    • Mental Health Primary 18+ all genders
    • Michigan Residents
    • Comprehensive Online Assessments
    • Confidential, Easy to Use, At-Home Care
    • Psychiatrist-Led Medical Team
    • Psychiatric Care (Telepsychiatry)
    • Medical Interventions 
    • Psychoeducation
    • Clinical Therapists & Registered Dietitians
    • Healing Group Therapy & Individual Therapy
    • Free Alumni & Family Programs
    • Flexible Schedules
    • Insurance-Eligible


Sample Schedule Mental Health Primary Virtual Program

6 Questions for Jennifer Barajas, Sanford Behavioral Health Clinical Manager

Clinical Manager Jennifer A. Barajas, MS, LPC

1. SBH – What happens during the week in the Mental Health Virtual Program?

Jennifer – On Monday morning, we check in with symptoms and medication compliance – get to know each other a bit, and set goals. At 10:00, we start with a trauma group, and at 11:00, we have a safety planning group. Safety planning helps our clients maintain safety, and provides skills to manage suicidal ideations, self-harm boundaries, and how to include support systems.

On Wednesday, we have a process group in the morning, and then we’ll have the CBT and ACT psychoeducation groups. At 11:00, we have a relapse prevention and shame resiliency group. On Thursday, first thing in the morning, we do DBT, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness skills. And then, we have an anxiety skills group that focuses on social, workplace, and general anxiety. Finally, we have a weekend coping skills planning group, which will support health and wellness while away from treatment for the weekend.


2. SBH – What kind of rules are in place for those participating?

Jennifer – The virtual world allows for the relaxing of some rules; for example, those with ambulatory care-restrictive conditions can attend. It also requires some rules that are more obvious in person. For example, you raise your hand to get called on. If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, you can mute your screen and express those emotions. It eliminates both physical and emotional barriers.

Other rules include having internet access, a computer, and being stationary. We ask that they not eat and try to stay in place. We give ten-minute breaks before each new group.


3. SBH – How long have you been working in the virtual world (telehealth)?

Jennifer – I’ve been doing telehealth since about 2016. I worked for a company that managed thousands of (now) 988 after-hours crisis calls in New Mexico and Michigan. As the clinical supervisor, I managed a call center in Portland, OR, Albuquerque, NM, and Grandville, MI, all from my home. I love it! In 2019 I started my private practice treating mental health primary. I saw clients all over the world, so I’m culturally sensitive and aware of the cultural differences that people have.



4. SBH – How did you find Sanford Behavioral Health?

Jennifer – I was the clinical program manager for a Michigan Tribe, and I came to Sanford looking for a place where tribal members could go that would not be a typical 14-day stay. I worked with Alec Green, and I was really impressed with the facility. A position at Sanford popped up and the work I was doing with trauma was key to the position. So was the detailed structure that I work with – I’ve been working with people for years in this kind of program where we examine the negative core beliefs and create reframes. In fact, I have a list of 118 of the most common negative core beliefs that I’ve seen in people over the years and the reframes to help them.

I also work with a process of handwriting cards and then repeating the cards, because I say to clients regularly, ‘”The liars believe the lies.” That means that the more we say things out loud, the more we believe them. So, we have to start to do and say things that are positive to ourselves. We also have to start to believe those things about us that are positive. The more we see the positive in ourselves and speak those things, the more it becomes our new belief system.


5. Why does virtual treatment for mental health conditions work?

Jennifer – It works because it takes away barriers to treatment.  If you have disabilities, it creates less of a challenge. And we are addressing the treatment deserts in Michigan. If I live in Paradise, Michigan in the Upper Penninsula, access to treatment is difficult unless you go to a larger town. Access to care via virtual treatment means you don’t have have a long drive (often in bad weather) to get needed help. It provides socialization and connection to those who are in remote areas of the state or isolated from others. I’m excited about this program! The challenge with virtual can be for individuals who experience crisis. Sometimes brick and mortar can better serve individuals who are in crisis because they have access to more medical attention. The good news is that starting with a virtual program introduces our clients to a wide range of treatment options at Sanford Behavioral Health, including residential.


6. Anything else you’d like to say, Jennifer?

Jennifer – As clinicians, we have to practice the things we preach. That gives more validity to our clients so that they can learn how to practice and incorporate skills into their lives. We have to teach people how to write new narratives where they learn they survived a crisis or a trauma so we can help them not be in just survival mode, but living their best lives able to navigate life on life stressors. Not every skill is going to work for everyone, but we find the ones that work for each individual and encourage our clients to practice them.

Thanks Jennifer!


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit