How to Become a Self-Employed Massage Therapist

Massage therapists have several options if they wish to be self-employed.
i George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

About 60 percent of all massage therapists were self-employed as of 2010, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rest worked as staffers in spas, fitness centers and other health-related businesses. Massage therapists who wish to maintain control over their schedule and earning potential prefer to be self-employed. Although self-employed massage therapists often exchange increased responsibilities for flexibility, they retain their independence.


    Massage therapist training requirements vary by state. But most massage therapy programs require a minimum of 500 hours of course work. These programs include the study of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology as well as industry ethics. Advanced studies in different modalities such as Thai, pregnancy or sports massage are also available. A high school diploma or GED is required for admission. These programs are available through private for-profit institutions or public continued education.

Certification and License

    After completing their education, a massage therapist must be certified and licensed. Licensing varies from state to state and often from one municipality to the next. As of 2011, 43 states and the District of Columbia regulated massage therapy, according to the BLS. States that regulate massage require certification and licensing prior to working. Certification involves passing nationally recognized tests. The two most widely accepted certification exams are the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination, or MBLEx, and the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, or NCETMB.

Independent Contractor

    A massage therapist who works as an independent contractor can work in a spa, hotel or even her own home. Independent contractors are responsible for paying their withholding taxes. They may work alongside massage therapists who are on staff. But they can negotiate their hours, workload and commission percentage. Working as an independent contractor allows you to remain self-employed without incurring huge overhead that comes with owning a massage therapy practice.

Small-Business Owner

    Starting a massage therapy practice is another form of self-employment. Unlike the independent contractor, a massage therapist who opens a practice tackles the same issues as any small-business owner. This includes paying rent, promoting the business and hiring and managing other massage therapists. Massage therapist who decide to open their own business have less time to practice their skills because they must manage daily operating procedures. Another option is renting space or a room in a massage therapist practice, salon or spa. This allows the massage therapist to minimize cost while growing a clientele.

the nest