Our Person of the Month for the current issue of JMS is Brenda Howell, MS, LMT from Fayetteville, NC. Nearly finished with SOMI’s Medical Massage Program, Brenda is a force of nature. Aside from being a great therapist who quickly absorbs even the tiniest pieces of data and who has strong technical skills, Brenda plans to change the future of massage education. She hopes to inject science into all aspects of massage, including basic massage training. After witnessing firsthand the deep gaps within MT education, Brenda opened her massage school, where she centers scientific data and clinical skills training. 

          I recently had the privilege of connecting with Brenda’s students, who will soon graduate from the Institute for Massage and Bodywork Therapy. Our conversation showed that Brenda and her school were on the right path. Brenda’s success and that of our current students and alums justify SOMI’s efforts.

Dr. Ross Turchaninov, Editor in Chief 


Here is our interview with, 


Brenda Howell, MS, LMT

JMS: How did you get into massage therapy?  

B. Howell: I never thought about going into massage therapy and was happy being a stay-at-home mom. Out of the blue, I thought of becoming a massage therapist, so I started researching schools, and two weeks later, I was sitting in my first massage class. I started learning about the benefits of massage and thought maybe I could help my husband feel better with all his military injuries. As schooling progressed, I knew I wanted to be the therapist that helped people get better, not just make them feel temporarily better. 

JMS: What is your opinion of Medical Massage, and how has it helped your practice? 

B. Howell: As soon as I became a licensed massage therapist, I started chasing CEU classes labeled “medical massage.” While my palpation skills grew and I was helping some people, I had more and more cases where I didn’t know how to help them or what I was doing would help some clients but not others with the same condition. I needed to understand why I was successful with some cases and not others. I kept looking for teachers that would really teach the ‘WHY’ behind the treatment plan. Once I found and started studying true medical massage offered by the Science Of Massage Institute (SOMI), the way I practiced massage changed drastically. As a result, I saw more successful outcomes, and word-of-mouth referrals grew exponentially. 

JMS: How important is clinical evaluation for your treatment strategies?  

B. Howell: Clinical evaluation is the foundation of any of my medical massage sessions. Without it, I’m just taking a wild guess as to what the problem is and what the solution might be. Looking back at my earlier practice days, I know that most of my mistakes came from a lack of a proper clinical evaluation. I don’t want to be the type of therapist who assumes what the problem is. I want to be sure of it. A proper evaluation takes away my guesswork and shows me what is going on with the body. Clinical evaluation skills are skills I believe every therapist that practices medical massage should be continuously sharpening.  

JMS: What is your opinion of SOMI’s Medical Massage Certification Program and its clinical validity?  

B. Howell: SOMI’s MM certification program is no joke. It’s not just a weekend class or a one-and-done type of program. You have to take what you learned back to your practice and do it. While the program may look like it’s structured so that the therapist learns a set number of protocols, the therapist, in reality, is learning a concept. SOMI teaches the concept of Medical Massage, not a new modality or a stringent protocol set. We are meticulously taught how to evaluate the patient, look at those results, and find the best and quickest solution by combining modalities into one successful treatment session.  

JMS: You recently opened your massage therapy school. Tell our readers about your work as an educator: your goals, difficulties, and expectations.  

B. Howell: The NC massage board approved my school (Institute for Massage and Bodywork Therapy) in October 2021, and we started the first set of classes in January 2022. Our first class will graduate on August 14th! My journey/desire to open a massage school began in 2018. I was sitting in a SOMI’s CEU class looking at this new big red Medical Massage Volume I book I had just purchased and wondering why I wasn’t taught this information in my massage school. I jokingly told Dr. Ross to give me five years, and I would open a school using his textbook. (FYI, he doesn’t remember me from that class or our short conversation).  

As my career and practice grew, I couldn’t help but notice that the essential part of massage therapy skills was lacking in many new therapists. Very few therapists could do even basic massage techniques correctly, much less understand why and when each technique should be used. I love my profession and the freedom our massage license gives us to help people heal! I know most people get into massage therapy because of their desire to help others. My goal is to help our potential students reach their goals of truly helping their clients improve. I believe that if they are taught a strong foundation, they can grow to become excellent therapists regardless of what area of massage they want to pursue.  

One of the leading teaching difficulties we have encountered is trying not just to teach to pass an exam – whether for the class or the MBLEx – but to help the students prepare for real-life encounters they will experience in the treatment room. Of course, the students must pass the MBLEx, but more importantly, they must be prepared for the real world. The other difficulty I have noticed is the different terminology between textbooks. While most textbooks agree on the physiological aspect of massage, they each tend to use different terminology. That causes confusion for the students and teachers as they are trying to teach the different subjects.  

Another task I have faced is walking the students through the process of adapting the standard view of what a massage therapist does into a medically-focused view. Our program helps students as they adjust their expectations.    

I have high expectations for my school, which include hiring competent staff, having students succeed in class with their assignments/tests and passing the MBLEx, and getting hired. I want to create and run a massage therapy program that helps to make the massage therapy world better.   

JMS: What is your favorite type of bodywork? 

B. Howell: When I get a therapeutic relaxation massage, I love my scalp, glutes, and feet to be the focus. Like any girl, I love the experience of a spa day. My favorite was visiting Bath, England, and experiencing the ancient spa waters. But as a massage therapist, I most enjoy treating migraine cases, especially cluster migraines, to bring relief. 


Brenda Howell, MS, LMT:

A licensed massage therapist since 2015, Brenda holds advanced certifications in Myofascial Release, Neural Reset Therapy, Medical Massage and Lymphedema. She also holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science with a concentration of Rehabilitation Sciences. These combined certifications and advanced education have allowed her to specialize in treating chronic disorders of the musculoskeletal system as well as disorders stemming from the central and peripheral nervous system.  

Brenda opened up her clinic, Healing Hands Body Therapy, immediately following receiving her license in 2015 and opened Institute for Massage and Bodywork Therapy in 2021. She enjoys spending time with her family, dogs, or backpacking with friends when she has a free weekend.  

Brenda can be reached via email: healinghandsbodytherapy@gmail.com

Institute for Massage and Bodywork Therapy website: Massage School – Institute for Massage and Bodywork Therapy (imbtnc.com)

Category: Person of the Month