There Has Always Been Time to Play

We’re celebrating decades of play at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH)!

Time to Play: a History of Play Therapy at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital recognises the importance of play in the hospital setting as part of the 2022 South Australia’s History Festival.

Curated by Alex Del Gaudio, a volunteer who works with the WCHN History and Heritage Collection, this exhibition focuses on the different aspects of Play Therapy in the WCH and how the program has developed over the years.

Five female Play Leaders in 1995

Play Leaders, WCH, c1995. Left to right: Jenny Gomersall, Barbara Mynhart, Janet Cleveland, Sue Macklin and Rosie Gugenberger

Where it Started

Forms of Play Therapy were introduced at the former Adelaide Children’s Hospital (ACH) in the late 1930s.

The Hospital’s first Play Therapist was Joan Lupton. She was brought over from the United Kingdom to establish a dedicated department that would rapidly expand in the ensuing decades. In the beginning, Joan was known as an Almoner. At the time an Almoner had a broad role, encompassing aspects of Social Work and Nursing.

As time went on, this field of work became much more specialised, and called ‘Play Therapy’.

The Play Therapy Department at the ACH greatly expanded and supported different staff from around the Hospital, including Social Workers and Occupational Therapists.

As the profession also grew across the country, the ACH excelled in the area, receiving commendations from organisations such as the Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital.

Play leader and child painting in 1986

Play leader engaging patients in fun activities, ACH, 1986.

Play Therapy Now

Fast forward to the present day, and a specialised program of Play Therapy is provided here at the now Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which we support through our Arts in Health program.

A Play Therapist’s role does not only involve children playing with toys, but they also provide distraction to minimise stress and fear, help keep patients safe, prepare and support patients for procedures, provide emotional support, provide clothing and toiletries in emergencies, connect children to their home life and schooling, contribute to a vibrant hospital environment and create positive, fun and meaningful experiences.

The WCH currently has 11 dedicated Play Therapists who work hard to ensure that every child who enters the Hospital has access to the tools they need to express themselves.

Rather than eliminating unpleasant feelings altogether, the goal of the Play Therapy service is to allow children to ‘feel what they feel’ and give them a safe space to communicate this without becoming overwhelmed.

Play Therapy is much more than just fun and games!

The current Play Therapy team dressed up for Superhero Day in the WCH.

Exhibition Details

Time to Play: a history of Play Therapy at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital is exhibiting in the Pink Heart Gallery at the WCH until 1 August 2022.

*Please note: Due to COVID-19 there are visitor restrictions in the Hospital. To remain updated on this information, visit

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