A review of trends in emergency psychiatry since 1981 indicates that the scope and complexity of the field have greatly increased. Clinicians have found it useful to identify patient groups with special assessment and treatment needs, including adolescents, the elderly, victims of rape and of domestic violence, and repeat visitors to the emergency service. The spread of AIDS requires greater medical attentiveness by psychiatric emergency clinicians, and two recreational substances of abuse, cocaine and inhalants, have become increasingly popular. The use of psychotropic drugs in the emergency room has received more attention, and new trends in rapid tranquilization are apparent. Also reviewed are current medicolegal controversies related to emergency room practice, findings on prediction and control of violence, and the use of the psychiatric emergency service as a training site.