We interviewed Celeste Homan, M.S., M.Ac., L.Ac., Assistant Professor in the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program and winner of the Faculty Research Poster Award at MUIH’s first Research Symposium, for her study using acupuncture as an alternative treatment for cystic acne. The study not only demonstrates successful symptom treatment, but rather explores critical thinking around patient healing and focuses on treating the whole person, not just a particular symptom.
Maryland University of Integrative Health: Can you share some details about the beginning of your research project and what sparked your interest to explore acupuncture in treating acne?
Celeste Homan: Acne was this patient’s main concern so of course I was interested in addressing his concern. My profession is known for treating people and not symptoms, but that doesn’t mean ignoring symptoms, it means understanding them within the context of the person’s life. Because of the inherent link between the body, mind, and spirit in Chinese medicine, it doesn’t matter where you start. You can start with their main concern and you will still discover who this person is on a deeper level.
I chose this particular patient because I had taken pictures of his back that demonstrated the outcome. But my real interest was the critical thinking involved that could serve as a model for other practitioners.
MUIH: Do you perceive a correlation between the patient’s history of internal cysts prior to dental surgery and the eruption of external cysts and acne post-op?
CH: Yes, the patient’s history provides important insight into the etiology of the condition. We want to support the body’s natural healing mechanisms, not mask his symptoms. It is quite possible to drive pathology deeper into the body if we don’t take time to understand what the body is trying to do or what support it may need.
For this person, the history of cysts indicated a tendency toward fluid stagnation, which I could understand from an organ perspective. In other words, this organ is failing to do this or that, but the location of the cysts and the change observed after the dental work was also important. It linked his symptoms with the divergent channel mechanism, which is what I treated.
MUIH: Acne is a condition with which many struggle. How do you see your research helping people in a broader sense beyond this particular patient?
CH: I am glad you asked this question. Of course it is possible to specialize in a particular field, like gynecology or in this case dermatology, to learn about methods that address those particular issues. But as an educator, I wish to demonstrate the foundational principles of Chinese medicine that can be used to address a wide range of patient concerns.
I would have liked using a different title for this poster, such as “A case report demonstrating use of the divergent channel mechanism,” but I have learned that people may not be interested in that, or they may think they can’t understand it. Many people want to read about what “works” and they want medical information organized according to illness or condition, but that isn’t always possible in Chinese medicine where unexpected associations are common.
This particular research demonstrates a channel approach to treatment, meaning that I used the anatomy and physiology of the acupuncture channel systems to justify the selection of points for treatment. Many practitioners design their treatments based on the functions of the organs and body fluids, or on the Five Element constitutional nature of the patient. But these approaches may not fully explain the patient’s signs and symptoms, making it difficult to prioritize the patient’s main concern and to ensure safe treatment.
MUIH: Do you have plans to explore other areas of research as well?
CH: Acupuncture is a type of bodywork like physical therapy or massage. I am interested in the patient’s kinesthetic experience of treatment and its potential relationship to their healing response. The body is this marvelous machine that carries consciousness. I am interested in where the body and consciousness meet.