Psychotherapy Off the Wall

A Wired Pyro
Hugh was an arsonist. He had set fires all over the city in which he lived. In setting each fire, he felt ‘in control’ of the social world which he felt ostracized him, and he obtained a kind of exhilarating excitement in the sense of ‘getting back’ he felt over the things he burned. However, he did not experience any sexual excitement, nor was he excited by the ensuing activity when the fire trucks and fire fighters arrived – such as that noted in the reports of (rare) pyro-erotic cases. In fact, he rarely waited around to see that part of the sequence of events.
Hugh’s psychological test performances were quite different from Harry’s and Hector’s. The DDT scores were within ‘normal’ limits. But the tests did reveal a high level of anxious tension which, in his case, seemed to be projected and experienced mainly internally in his viscera (‘guts’). It was as though internal tension accumulated within him in a manner which seemed similar to that of most pyro-maniacs. When tension reached an intolerable peak intensity, he seemed to feel the need to create a colourful and intense experience (a fire) to relieve the tension.
Because Felicity concluded that the anxious tension targeted the internal parts (viscera), he thought it might be appropriate to use a desensitization method targeting the bodily autonomic response most directly. So, viewing Hugh’s behaviour as though it was a compulsive act similar to George’s, Felicity started Hugh on Quirk’s method of stimulus conditioned autonomic response suppression (SCARS).
There were thirty-five half-hour treatment sessions using the SCARS procedure. By half-way through this treatment, Hugh seemed calmed down and he reported that the fire-setting behaviour had stopped. His calmness and comfort grew through the rest of the treatment. He claims to have set no more fires in the intervening twenty years, and he has not been arrested or charged in that time. But how could Felicity possibly think of Hector’s and Hugh’s criminal actions as ‘sadistic’? Surely sadism is evidenced only in relation to living things, if not only toward people. Maybe so, and maybe not. Certainly, the way in which Harry, Hector and Hugh described their actions and the ways they were feeling while performing their offenses had all the qualities which characterize most descriptions of ‘sadistic’ acts. They experienced intense excitement, the sense of exercising power, control and revenge over other things, and apparent pleasure in inflicting damage and harm. It’s true that their acts were not directed at people, and that they involved no sexual excitement. The reasons why sadism has become associated with sexuality in the minds of most people probably lie in three directions.

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