Clinical and forensic assessment of firesetting

Faye Horsley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The literature base on firesetting is narrower than that relating to other offence types. Encouragingly, empirical research has grown over the past decade leading to some significant advances. Despite this growth, a number of challenges face practitioners tasked with seeking to understand a firesetter’s presentation. First, there is still no validated risk assessment tool specifically designed for adults who set fires (Watt & Ong, 2015), meaning there is no consensus on exactly what factors need to be considered when assessing firesetters. Another obstacle is that for a person with a history of firesetting, there is little opportunity to observe their interactions with fire in custody and, thus, ‘risk monitoring’ is more difficult. Additionally, Horsley (2020, 2022) discusses the evolutionary basis of fire and the resultant ‘relationship’ humans have formed with it; this, it is argued, further complicates firesetting cases.

This chapter presents the case of ‘Carl’ to illuminate the complexities involved in assessing someone with a history of firesetting. Standard assessment tools (the HCR-20 and SAPROF) were used to identify general risk and protective factors; however, Carl presented with a number of static and dynamic fire-specific risk factors, such as identification with fire, interest in fire, and physiological arousal to fire. It was therefore necessary to augment the standard assessment tools by drawing upon the latest psychological firesetting literature. Furthermore, the multi-trajectory theory of adult firesetting (M-TTAF; Gannon et al., 2012) was drawn upon for a theoretical perspective. A clinical formulation of Carl’s presentation and firesetting was developed, which informed treatment recommendations. Even through using this approach, however, there are still many ‘unknowns’ with respect to firesetting, highlighting the need for further research to aid clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFurther Case Studies in Forensic Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationClinical Assessment and Treatment
EditorsRuth J. Tully, Jennifer Bamford
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781003213116, 9781003213116
ISBN (Print)9781032081380
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2022

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