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January 1970

Children Who Set Fires

Author Affiliations

New York
From the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, St. Luke's Hospital Center (Drs. Vandersall and Wiener) and the Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (Dr. Wiener), New York.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1970;22(1):63-71. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1970.01740250065010

FIRESETTING in children is a serious symptom, and is considered by many to be a valid reason for emergency consultation. While there is uniformity of opinion about its consequences, there is less agreement about its causes and meaning. This study reviews the literature on firesetting in children, reports 20 cases in which firesetting was a symptom, and attempts to draw some conclusions from the cases presented regarding the circumstances, ego integration, and psychopathology involved in children who set fires. It will be demonstrated that firesetting occurs in many different situations and personality constellations, may have a variety of dynamic meanings, and that the consistent factors in firesetting have to do with ego integration and impulse control.

Review of the Literature  The literature on firesetting includes the classic psychoanalytic formulations by Freud1 and Simmel,2 the well-known study of firesetters by Lewis and Yarnell,3

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