Current Issues

ACART Firesetter Treatment Program

By Rebekah Doley, BA (Hons), Grad Dip Psy Prac, MSc (Inv Psy), MPsych (Clin), Ph.D. & Therese Ellis-Smith, BBSc, Grad Dip App Soc Psych, MPsych (Forensic)

May 14, 2014 Back

The Australian Centre for Arson Research and Treatment (ACART) is based at Bond University in Queensland, Australia. The centre has recently developed an intervention program for firesetters aged 14 years or older. The ACART Firesetter Treatment Program is offered in several locations across Australia and recently 19 specialist clinicians in Boston, Massachusetts were trained to deliver the program, including two clinicians from Brandon Residential Center. The training workshop covered case formulation, the theoretical basis for the program including the M-TTAF, the Multi-Factor Offender Readiness Model (Ward, Day, Howells, & Birgden, 2004), and the Good Lives Model (Ward & Stewart, 2003) and intervention techniques such as motivational interviewing and relapse prevention as applied to fire-specific issues. All clinicians must be fully registered psychologists or social workers. The next training program is scheduled for May 2014 and will take place in Singapore.

The ACART Firesetter Treatment Program (Fritzon, Doley, Davey & McEwan, 2013) is based on international research and clinical practice, and is founded on the Multi-Trajectory Theory of Adult Firesetting (M-TTAF) (Gannon, Ó Ciardha, Doley & Alleyne, 2011). The program is unique in that it adopts the latest research on firesetting, offender rehabilitation and readiness to change, and is tailored to the individual needs of each client. The M-TTAF (Gannon, Ó Ciardha, Doley, & Alleyne, 2012) proposes differences in the motivations for firesetting behavior and posits five likely behavioral and psychological trajectories leading to firesetting: antisocial cognition, grievance, fire interest, emotionally expressive/need for recognition, and multifaceted.

In order to identify participants’ likely trajectories and, therefore, formulate a treatment plan to address these motivations, a number of mental health assessment instruments are used including: Simple Rathus Assertiveness Schedule;  Boredom Propensity Scale: Measures of Criminal Attitudes and Associates; Social Problem Solving Inventory – Revised; UCLA Loneliness Scale;  and the Novaco Anger Scale and Provocation Inventory. In addition, pre-treatment assessment also involves the administration of a compilation of fire related measures including the Identification with Fire Scale, the Fire Related Social Desirability Scale, the Fire Attitude Scale, and the Fire Interest Rating Scale.

Once the specific M-TTAF trajectory is identified, treatment is tailored to suit the criminogenic needs of the individual.  A unique treatment pathway has been identified for each of the M-TTAF trajectories, and clinicians are guided through the manual to select the most appropriate mix of sessions from program modules based on the client’s needs. This ensures that the program maximizes the responsivity of the individuals in treatment and addresses any particular emotional, behavioral or cognitive deficits that have contributed to the fire behavior.

Program Delivery

The program is conducted on an individual basis across seven modules, and these are:

  1. Introduction and motivational interviewing
  2. Understanding my firesetting behavior
  3. Understanding my thinking
  4. Mood management
  5. Communication and relationships
  6. Finding solutions
  7. Maintaining gains

The usual length of the program is between 14 to 18 sessions; however, in our experience some clients may require additional sessions to assist in the assimilation of material. The treatment process involves engaging the client in a range of activities designed to develop understanding of the role of firesetting for them and how alternative, more pro-social strategies could be used to achieve a similar purpose.

Future Directions

ACART is currently redeveloping the program for group delivery within correctional centres and it is expected the program will be implemented widely across Australian jurisdictions during 2014. In addition, variations are underway to maximise the programs’ utility when working with clients with special needs and those from specific ethic populations.  In May 2014, clinician working groups from Brandon Residential Treatment Center and Riverside Community Care will be meeting jointly to develop group delivery program models appropriate for adolescents and adults with firesetting histories.

A number of clinician working groups have also been established to develop and contribute to treatment initiatives for specific types of firesetters, such as sex offenders who light fires, juvenile firesetters, and female firesetters.

ACART considers the ACART Firesetter Treatment Program represents current best practice in the treatment of firesetting behavior, as it utilizes a comprehensive assessment battery in order to ensure that treatment is individualized and responsive to clients’ criminogenic needs.

For further details please contact Dr. Rebekah Doley or Dr. Katarina Fritzon, Co-Directors – Australian Centre for Arson Research and Treatment (ACART) at Bond University. Contact details can be found at

About The Author

Rebekah Doley, BA (Hons), Grad Dip Psy Prac, MSc (Inv Psy), MPsych (Clin), Ph.D. & Therese Ellis-Smith, BBSc, Grad Dip App Soc Psych, MPsych (Forensic)

Dr. Rebekah Doley's initial training is in organizational psychology and human resource management. She has provided on-call critical incident stress debriefing following trauma for correctional staff and emergency services personnel as well as worked for the Australian Defense Force. She currently conducts a successful private practice in Northern NSW providing a range of clinical psychology services, working with individuals and couples as well as providing training to aged care facilities for staff, carers and residents in general mental health and well-being issues.