Pyromania is defined as a pattern of deliberate setting of fires for pleasure or satisfaction derived from the relief of tension experienced before the fire-setting. The name of the disorder comes from two Greek words that mean “fire” and “loss of reason” or “madness.”
Most studies of causation regarding pyromania have focused on children and adolescents who set fires. Early studies in the field used the categories of Freudian psychoanalysis to explain this behavior. Freud had hypothesized that firesetting represented a regression to a primitive desire to demonstrate power over nature. In addition, some researchers have tried to explain the fact that pyromania is predominantly a male disorder with reference to Freud’s notion that fire has a special symbolic relationship to the male sexual urge. A study done in 1940 attributed firesetting to fears of castration in young males, and speculated that adolescents who set fires do so to gain power over adults. The 1940 study is important also because it introduced the notion of an “ego triad” of firesetting, enuresis (bed-wetting), and cruelty to animals as a predictor of violent behavior in adult life. Subsequent studies have found that a combination of firesetting and cruelty to animals is a significant predictor of violent behavior in adult life, but that the third member of the triad (bed-wetting) is not.
Children and adolescents
Treatment of children and adolescents involved with repeated firesetting appears to be more effective when it follows a case-management approach rather than a medical model, because many young firesetters come from chaotic households. Treatment should begin with a structured interview with the parents as well as the child, in order to evaluate stresses on the family, patterns of supervision and discipline, and similar factors. The next stage in treatment should be tailored to the individual child and his or her home situation. A variety of treatment approaches, including problem-solving skills, anger management, communication skills, aggression replacement training, and cognitive restructuring may be necessary to address all the emotional and cognitive issues involved in each case.
Pyromania in adults is considered difficult to treat because of the lack of insight and cooperation on the part of most patients diagnosed with the disorder. Treatment usually consists of a combination of medication— usually one of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors— and long-term insight-oriented psychotherapy .