Fires: Does the Pyromaniac Archetype Really Exist?

Tous les départs de feu ne proviennent pas d'actes de pyromanie. © Pam Walker, Adobe Stock

Media coverage of arson has been intense in recent weeks due to the confessions of a firefighter who is said to have started several fires in Hérault since May and whose arson activity may have started three years ago . However, in the forensic psychiatric literature, the very existence of the disorder has been debated for decades: kindling a fire and carnal desire before the flames. This individual does not exist: it is a myth built from scratch. In reality, most arsonists do not meet the diagnostic criteria for pyromania. According to Julie Palix, PhD in psychology, specializing in forensic psychology at the Lausanne University Hospital, the clinical entity “pyromania” is no longer part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and is no longer used . in the field of forensic psychiatry. The importance of terms First, we must return to terms. There is a clear difference between starting a fire, arson and pyromania. As specified in a forensic psychiatry article published in 2012, the first two are behaviors while the third is a psychiatric diagnosis that meets extremely strict criteria. You can start a fire without being an arsonist and be an arsonist without being an arsonist. It is even rather the norm. According to a Finnish study that is a benchmark in the field, among 90 repeat arsonists, only three met the diagnostic criteria for pyromania. This study then suggested re-examining the absence of substance use as an exclusion criterion for diagnosis. However, for a long time, and explicitly since 2003 in the literature with an article entitled “Pyromania: fact or fiction”, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, we wonder about the real existence of this psychiatric disorder. Also, according to a study published in 2014, most arsonists never reoffend. The myth What we described at the beginning of the article is a myth. Julie Palix confirms this: “As a general rule, the arsonist (the researcher uses the term here for its literal and non-psychiatric meaning) repeat offender is not impulsive. His act fits into a routine and is usually very controlled. Most of the time, it is socially integrated and often a regional fact. Furthermore, theories of psychological development that suggest a fiery orgasmic desire are anachronistic and have long been disproved. This information is taken from a literature review that Julie Palix did in 2015 and published in the Swiss Medical Review.Does the environment determine the disorder?In the literature, a field called environmental criminology is currently developing. and reports on criminal acts. like the fire In a 2011 paper, Australian researchers list the spatio-temporal factors that motivate forest arsonists to take action. Elements that we have already discussed are mentioned, such as habits and routine, but also urbanization, with in particular the new peri-urban areas, close to the city and nature. In fact, forest arsonists are generally people who live in cities. In the same way, this type of urbanization is a vector of opportunities. For this field of criminology, it is not so much the profile that determines the act, but the environment. Interested in what you just read?
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