Navigating Identity Challenges: Kelly Wise, M.S.W. '05, Ph.D.

As a college student, Kelly Wise, M.S.W. ’05, Ph.D., was the person who friends sought out when they needed to talk about issues they were grappling with, especially around sexual identity. “I found it so powerful to hear people’s stories and to be the one who other people felt they could trust with this stuff,” he said. Not surprisingly, more than twenty years later, Wise is the director of a sex therapy practice, Wise Therapy, leading a team of more than twenty practitioners (several of whom are also Smith School for Social Work alumni).

Working with LGBTQ youth in foster care after college confirmed for Wise that he wanted to be a social worker. He leapt at the opportunity to attend SSW for his M.S.W.—Smith College had always seemed like a magical place to him.

Kelly Wise leans against the wall. They are wearing a button down blue shirt, tie, and orange shorts.

Besides helping him advance in his career, attending Smith helped Wise better understand himself. He identified as a queer woman—and while the label didn’t feel right, he didn’t have the language to name what he was truly feeling about gender. “And then I took a gender studies class with Sarah Stearns that blew open my mind—just learning things that I had never learned about or knew other people struggled with,” he said.

After completing his M.S.W., Wise worked at the Child Center of New York while pursuing a human sexuality Ph.D. at Widener University. “I just wanted to learn more. I was really on the quest for myself and sex therapy was the path I took—looking for myself and figuring out my own struggles.”

Wise’s job at the Child Center had a personal dimension. When he was a child, his mother had been a drug user and his father a dealer. His family stayed out of the system, but if they had received services, it would have been from this agency. “I just found it really healing and rewarding—like my older self was coming to help my younger self.”

After eight years in that position, Wise opened his practice in 2011. As it has since college, helping people navigate their challenges, especially around their identity, brings him joy. “There’s just such a  tide that everyone has to push against to be themselves,” he said. “I love people and their resilience, creativity and strength to keep fighting, wanting to get closer to themselves or others.”