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Pyromania

Pyromania is defined as a pattern of deliberate setting of fires for pleasure or personal gratification derived from the relief of tension experienced before the fire-setting. Pyromania is classified as an impulse control disorder because a person diagnosed with pyromania fails to resist the impulsive desire to set fires, as opposed to the organized planning of an arsonist or terrorist. This type of behavior can lead to hazardous situations and criminal charges being placed against the pyromaniac.

Quick Facts:

  • More men than women are diagnosed with pyromania.
  • Pyromania is extremely rare; less than one percent of reported recent studies were related to pyromania.
  • Pyromania may begin in childhood, but there is no conclusive data regarding the typical age of onset.
  • When a person is a pyromaniac, he/she never sets fire to things for anything but a sense of satisfaction.
  • To be considered a pyromaniac, a person must set fire to something more than once.
  • To be considered a pyromaniac, all other options (manic episodes, conduct disorder, etc.) must be eliminated.

Diagnosing Pyromania

In the media, pyromaniacs are often portrayed as angry people who have been rejected by society who get their comeuppance by setting fire to places they associate with their negative emotions. This is an inaccurate portrayal; while many arsonists are, in fact, pyromaniacs, pyromania is not the cause behind most arson. Though pyromaniacs commit premeditated arson, they do not do it with the intention of hurting people, gaining revenge, unleashing feelings of frustration or anger, or simply out of boredom. Rather, these types of people will commit an act of pyromania because they cannot control themselves. Pyromaniacs feel pleasure, relief, and/or gratification upon seeing the aftermath of a fire or upon seeing a fire burn; they commit arson for the sake of these feelings only. A person can be diagnosed with pyromania only if they have set fire to something more than once, if they experience the aforementioned feelings of pleasure and/or relief upon seeing a fire burn, and if their arson is not caused by any other disorder, such as antisocial personality disorder.

Treating Pyromania

Because pyromania is very rare, there have not been many case studies conducted on it and thus, doctors do not know a significant amount about treating it. However, there are a variety of options that have been used in helping treat Pyromania. The treatment approaches for children and adolescents involved with repeated fire setting include problem-solving skills, anger management, communication skills, aggression replacement training, and cognitive restructuring. It is usually much more difficult to treat Pyromania in adults because of the lack of cooperation and the most common kind of treatment usually consists of a combination of medication – usually one of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – and long-term insight-oriented psychotherapy.

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