Your driver will see you now: Meet the mental health counselor that drives with Lyft

Latania Robinson - May 1, 2024
Illustration by María Jesús Contreras

Latania Robinson struggled with mental health and addiction as a teenager. After turning her life around at age 19, she began volunteering at local schools, sharing her own story with students and leading workshops on substance abuse. Fast-forward many decades later, and Latania has a master’s in social work and over 30 years of experience in counseling. She’s practiced in a jail, a child psychiatry hospital, and — unofficially — in her car: Latania also drives with Lyft on the weekends. 

With Mental Health Month upon us, Latania shared some techniques she has for her passengers –– or truly, anyone –– to feel a little better every day. 

I always try to talk to people. Just engage a little bit, and they will open up. 

When a passenger gets in my car, I look for cues for how they are feeling. If they seem anxious, I’ll ask simple questions, like “Is the temperature OK?” or “Would you like water?” Your environment plays a big role in how you feel internally. I make sure my car is clean for that reason too. 

I’ll also ask them if they are in a rush or if they want to talk about something that’s happened. You never know what kind of day people are having, but you can be a good listener. And you can encourage them. 

When I pick up people, especially those going to or from the psychiatry hospital where I used to work, I always start by asking them, “How would you want somebody to talk to you?” Depending on how far we are going, we might really get into it.

I encourage counseling if it comes up. I always say everybody needs help. That might sound offensive, but it is the truth! 

Sometimes people share how much they are hurting, how truly disgusting they feel on the inside. I try to teach them to feel it! It’s not going to kill you. Acknowledge it. Get used to being uncomfortable. 

Pay attention to your body. You can tell if something is a trigger for you because there’s a physical response. And if your body ain’t right –– your mind ain’t right either. My hands start sweating, for instance. Sometimes it’s your heart beating fast. Go for a walk, call a friend, listen to music, squeeze a ball. Even just pinch your fingers. Sometimes I tell people to put rubber bands around their wrists. If they feel a trigger, they can just pop the band. 

I also recommend breathing techniques: Take a deep breath and slowly blow out. Or think about a peaceful place. In the time you are doing that, the anxiety passes, right? 

But no matter what, I always try to engage passengers. Sometimes I’ll just look at their address, see what neighborhood or community it is in, and find something to say about that. By the time they leave the car, they will be in a great mood. And I will too! I feel anxious sometimes, and sometimes just picking up somebody and doing something for them helps me too. 

We are human. Interacting with each other is what makes the world go round.