Andrew Ward

Defense Date


Graduation Date



Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Bruce Fink

Committee Member

Constance Fischer

Committee Member

Eva-Marie Simms


childhood fire-setting, fire-setting, juvenile


Previous research on fire-setting has been either totally theoretical or has been based on limited contact with individuals who set the fires. This dissertation accessed fire-setting through interviews with three male adults who set fires as children. Background information was acquired from the participants to construct the context in which each instance of fire-setting occurred. The purpose of this project was to understand each individual's life as a child in relation to his fire-setting behavior.

The initial goal of this project was to gain access to the actual experience of setting a fire; however, this proved to be an elusive goal and one that was not met. Instead, what emerged were recollected childhood experiences and beliefs.

All three participants reported feeling minimally supported by caregivers and/or treated in a way they perceived as different from that of their siblings. This situation was confusing and often left the participants trying to make sense of their place/role in the family. This attempt to make sense of the dynamics of their family proved difficult and the participants concluded that there was something about them that made them undesirable or isolated from the family. Likewise, given their insecurity regarding their place in the family, all participants felt that there was little use in talking with their family or eliciting help from them. Instead, each participant expressed fear that discussing his difficulties with his family would lead to further isolation.

In addition to feeling minimally supported or regarded as unimportant in the home setting, participants felt isolated in school and/or other social settings. Again, for the participants, this isolation was interpreted as reflecting a defect in them and each participant expressed a sense of helplessness regarding his ability to change this isolation. Fire-setting seems to reflect the isolation, confusion, helplessness, and sometimes anger and frustration the participants experienced regarding their inability to change the problematic situations and it seems that fire-setting may have been a way for the participants to impact or have some control over their environment. This study was unique in its exploration of fire-setters' emotions; its findings may have heuristic value for further research on fire-setting behavior.