Candy Finnigan Interventionist

By The Fix staff 09/09/19

Finnigan has an ability to balance assertiveness with the addict alongside shining a light on how the family’s actions may have contributed to the addiction. At the same time, she is incredibly compassionate, caring and understanding.

Candy Finnigan
Finnigan made it her mission to help those who were suffering from addiction and their families, and continues to do so with grace and humility.

Since the A&E network is airing a special limited season of its popular series Intervention this month, we thought it fitting to recognize a name that’s synonymous with the show: Candy Finnigan. Finnigan is a trailblazer in the interventionist field. Being in recovery herself for over three decades, she came to the profession after her children were grown. She was looking for something new and challenging. Finnigan obtained her certification from UCLA in Alcohol-Drug Counseling (CADC) and Alcohol-Drug Abuse Studies (CADAS) in a time when women weren’t commonly working in the world of addiction. In fact, one of her professors, Dr. Vernon Johnson of The Johnson Model of Intervention, once informed her that women didn’t have a place in this line of work. Finnigan didn’t agree, and eventually became not only one of the most well known and sought after interventionists in the country, but also a celebrated author with the publishing of her book, When Enough is Enough

However, none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Evelyn Finnigan, the mother of Mike Finnigan, Candy’s husband of over 45 years. Candy recalls in an interview that her mother-in-law once pulled her aside and informed her that she would not let her two grandchildren, Candy and Mike’s children, grow up with alcoholic parents. Mike Finnigan became a popular musician after college, and though they didn’t fall victim to some of the other dangerous temptations that musicians often face, their drinking became more and more of a problem. 

Candy Finnigan credits her mother-in-law, Evelyn, for giving her a 60-day time limit to get herself sober. And though she admits it wasn’t until day 56 that she finally put a stop to her boozing, to this day she thanks Evelyn, and God, for her sobriety. 

Candy Finnigan on Intervention 

When Intervention first aired, it shocked households across the country. The show featured addicts at their very worst and really shined a spotlight on the disease of addiction. If watching individuals passed out on their front lawns while their children are standing there horrified and ashamed didn’t make someone want to avoid going down the same path, then not much would. 

And while the show’s subject is indeed compelling, the heroes of the show—the interventionists—are what bring viewers back. Candy Finnigan has been involved with the project since its inception. 

When it comes time for the family members of the episode’s subject to get together to discuss what will take place once the intervention is in motion, Finnigan enters with a calming presence and authoritative demeanor, that somehow manages to simultaneously lift spirits and manage expectations.

Regardless of the intervention’s outcome, Finnigan breaks down the steps of the process for the family members, and is stern when someone waffles or hints about not sticking to their guns. Finnigan knows what she is doing, and captivates viewers. 

Different Intervention Approaches

Most people envision the process in the way it is showcased on the television series but there are different approaches when it comes to staging an intervention. Those who are seeking a career as an interventionist usually undergo training that involves studying the different methods. Whatever the style of intervention, the intended result is always the same—get the person the proper help before it is too late. 

One of the most well known types of interventions is the aforementioned Johnson Model. This type is the one most often seen on the television show. An addict is invited into a room that is filled with family members and loved ones. One by one they tell the person how their addiction has affected their lives, and ask them if they are willing to get help. Along with this, each person in the room presents the individual with the potential consequences of refusing the help. This model has been shown to be highly effective in getting people into treatment programs. The intention is to convince the person struggling that first of all, they are loved, and secondly, they will not have resources to fall back on if they choose not to accept the gift of treatment. 

The Johnson Model was at one time considered the most “popular” style of intervention. It relies on confrontation and the notion that the family should help “raise the bottom” for the addict. Its intention is to diffuse any possible threat or fight from the subject of the intervention by inviting him or her to make a choice, and have an open conversation about going to rehab. 

The Johnson Model was the training that Ms. Finnigan received, and she eventually considered Dr. Johnson her mentor, despite his initial opinions regarding women in the field. Dr. Johnson, an Episcopal priest who was also in recovery, is also known for implementing the “Minnesota Model” and co-founding the Johnson Institute, which has trained thousands of professional interventionists. What is so unique about Dr. Johnson's approach is the belief in early intervention, and disrupting the progression of the disease before it is too late. 

Another confrontational approach is the “Love First” method. This is similar to The Johnson Model in that it generally takes place in a neutral zone, like a family member’s home, and there are consequences mentioned if action is not taken to seek help. When the Love First method is applied, those who are holding the intervention must remain calm, no matter the circumstances, and avoid any type of accusatory tones or behaviors. The intention of this style is to bombard the person struggling with love and support, as the family members remain compassionate and positive throughout the process. 

Other intervention forms, like the ARISE method and CRAFT model, focus on creating a bond between the addict and loved ones. To facilitate this bond, the CRAFT model suggests that the individual battling addiction and the family members both seek help. These styles implement self-care for the entire family and aid in opening up communication and encourage healing for both parties. 

The above examples rely on some pre-planning prior to the event itself. But there are plenty of times when a person is in crisis and it is clear that something needs to be done and fast. Crisis interventions can be tricky in that they are usually thrown together last minute, often as a last ditch effort. This is also a time when an intervention actually results in having the subject involuntarily committed due to the risk of them harming themselves or others, or in the case of neglect. 

Finnigan’s Approach

An interventionist’s goal is to not only get the addict into a treatment program, but also to help their families get back on track and on the road to healing. The role includes helping to prepare for the event, informing and educating the family members of what to do during and after, and staging the actual intervention services. 

There are agencies that offer over the phone guidance for organizing an intervention, however it is recommended that if possible, a professional be present. 

As it is often documented on Intervention, in her approach Finnigan usually shows up several days before the intervention takes place and gets the wheels in motion. As a viewer of the television show, Finnigan’s arrival is always an exciting element. One can see and almost feel the relief wash over the family members in her presence. 

The prep period prior to the intervention is as important as the event itself. Interventionists like Finnigan have extensive knowledge of treatment centers around the country, and this stage is when they present the family with rehabs that will address their loved one’s issues. They then make a selection. 

The pre-intervention is also the time when Finnigan firmly insists that loved ones establish boundaries and end their enabling behaviors. Family members write a letter to the person who is struggling with addiction, expressing how much they are loved and cherished, and how their addiction has affected them. 

It is very clear that Finnigan has an ability to balance assertiveness with the addict alongside shining a light on how some of the family’s actions may have contributed to the addiction. 

At the same time, she is incredibly compassionate, caring and understanding. Finnigan usually mentions that she is also in recovery and realizes how hard this is for everyone involved. This acknowledgment instantly takes the shame and blame out of the equation, and helps everyone get to the root of what needs to be done. 

The Moment of Truth

On Intervention, Finnigan waits with family members in a little room until their loved one arrives. Other scenes reveal the addict, who is informed that he or she is heading to their final interview for what they believe is a documentary about addiction. Once the door opens and reveals the interventionist and the family, it suddenly becomes apparent that this is in fact an intervention. 

This moment has high stakes both in the show and in everyday, non-televised interventions. The surprise element carries the risk of the subject running away, which does happen from time to time, or getting angry and lashing out. The tension is thick.

This is when the interventionist steps in, diffuses the tension, and starts to calmly direct the room. In Finnigan’s case, she simply explains that all they’re going to do is sit down with their family, and listen to how much they are loved and cared for—that’s it. Incredibly, the addicted person usually obliges, and as the letters are read, emotions are expressed, and tears are shed, the person is given a second chance at life. 

Assuming the person agrees to get help, a sober companion escorts him or her to the chosen rehab, leaving the family to begin their own healing and introspection. The interventionist provides resources such as referrals to Al-Anon meetings, therapists, and help in addressing codependency issues. An intervention is not just for the addict, but for everyone that loves them. 

Why Candy Finnigan Makes Such an Impact

Ms. Finnigan is extremely open and honest with the families and addicts. She is quoted as saying that she cries every time she leads an intervention. She makes it clear that she is not just in the business of recovery for the paycheck, but because she genuinely wants to help save lives. 

Finnigan and Intervention report a success rate of about 71 percent. But what makes an even bigger impact is the nation’s newfound awareness of the actual issues that addiction presents, and how many people are affected by it. The show spotlighted the reality of addiction for the first time on a large scale, and it got people talking. 

Addiction was no longer a taboo subject, and it certainly was not going to be swept under the rug any longer. Intervention opened the door for the conversation about the disease of addiction, and also made many feel like getting help, getting clean and sober, was a possibility. 

Finnigan made it her mission to help those who were suffering from addiction and their families, and continues to do so with grace and humility. Because, as she so eloquently puts it, “It’s not just my work. It’s my life.” 

Candy Finnigan maintains frequent speaking engagements and appearances all over the country. Learn more about Candy Finnigan and her body of work on her website, Find Candy Finnigan on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

The Fix staff consists of the editor-in-chief and publisher, a senior editor, an associate editor, an editorial coordinator, and several contributing editors and writers. Articles in Professional Voices, Ask an Expert, and similar sections are written by doctors, psychologists, clinicians, professors and other experts from universities, hospitals, government agencies and elsewhere. For contact and other info, please visit our About Us page.